Health Impact of Lead in Paint

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls lead paint “a major flashpoint” for children’s potential lead poisoning and says that “lead paint is one of the largest sources of exposure to lead in children.” Children are exposed to lead, when painted surfaces deteriorate over time and contaminate household dust and soils. Children, ages 0-6, ingest the lead present in dust and soil by engaging in normal hand-to-mouth behaviors.

A child’s brain undergoes very rapid growth, development and differentiation during a child’s early years, and lead interferes with this process. Moderate lead exposure during early childhood years has been linked to an increased likelihood of impaired cognition and executive function, impulsiveness, aggression and delinquent behavior. Brain damage caused by chronic, low level exposure to lead is irreversible and untreatable.

Evidence of reduced intelligence caused by childhood exposure to lead has led WHO to list “lead-caused mental retardation” as a recognized disease. WHO also lists it as one of the top ten diseases whose health burden among children is due to modifiable environmental factors.