SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1995

Lead-Based Paint as a Major Source of Childhood Lead Poisoning: A Review of the Evidence


The current and historical evidence that lead-based paint constitutes a major source of lead poisoning in young children in the United States today is reviewed. Lead-based paint was recognized as a proximate cause of childhood lead poisoning before the turn of the century in Australia. Evidence continued to accumulate in this country that lead-based paint was associated with lead poisoning in residences. Congress attempted to correct this problem by passing the 1971 Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act. Recent case studies, studies of environmental correlates of blood lead in children, and stable isotope ratio studies have all indicated that old deteriorated lead-based paint still in residences contributes significantly to levels of lead found in house dust and soil, especially during routine renovation and inadequate abatement activity. There is now evidence that the principal pathway of childhood lead exposure is from lead in paint and soil to house dust to hand dust to ingestion through normal childhood hand-to-mouth contact. There is also some evidence that direct ingestion of lead paint chips through picabehavior is responsible for some cases of lead poisoning. This body of historical, epidemiological and analytical evidence is contrasted with an unsubstantiated theoretical approach which argues that lead-based paint cannot be a major source of childhood lead poisoning. The current weight of the scientific evidence indicates that failure to control lead-based paint in older dwellings will result in continued exposure to lead for a large number of children.

Author Information

Jacobs, DE
National Center for Lead-Safe Housing, Columbia, MD
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Developed by Committee: D01
Pages: 175–187
DOI: 10.1520/STP12974S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5296-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1884-3