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Lead is a heavy metal used in many materials and products before the risk to young children was known. Certain products such as paints used in older houses before 1978, lead solder used in plumbing, and leaded gasoline were used before their harmful health effects were recognized. Although laws now prevent lead from being used in many products, there can still be lead hazards in and around many homes. Lead can get into the air, water, food, soil, and even dust and then can be breathed or swallowed leading to serious health problems, especially for young children.
Lead is a toxin (poison) that can harm young children. Children 6 years old and under are most at risk because their bodies are still developing. A young children's exposure to lead can cause learning and behavioral problems and possibly damage their brains, kidneys, and other organs.
Lead enters the body when children breathe lead dust or lead fumes, or swallow something with lead in it. Young children often put things in their mouth creating a way for lead paint chips or lead dust to enter the body. The main way most young children are exposed to harmful levels of lead is through contact with lead-contaminated paint and dust.
Less often, water is contaminated when it flows through lead pipes or brass fixtures, or food is contaminated by contact with lead-glazed ceramic dishes. Certain ethnic spices, foods and cosmetics, and children's jewelry also have lead. In certain jobs and hobbies, adults may work with leaded materials and can possibly expose their child to lead if proper cleaning is not done.