Lead exposure and your Children- Even a little is too much!

Exposure to lead can have a wide range of negative effects on a child’s development and behavior.  And because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Even when exposed to very small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, lowered IQ, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.



Younger children adsorb lead easily and are most vulnerable to the negative effects of lead in their bodies. Parents should do their best to make sure that their homes are free of lead paint and other sources (see list below). Children in Thailand should drink only bottled water. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children be screened for exposure to lead. A simple and inexpensive blood test can determine whether or not a child has a dangerous level of lead in his or her body. The test can be obtained through a physician or public health clinic. Five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) of blood is the reference level at which CDC recommends active steps be taken to reduce exposure.  A level of 10 µg/dL requires further evaluation of the child. And levels above 25 µg/dL require chelation or EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) treatment to remove the led from the child’s body.  Sometimes more than one treatment is required, and it may not be possible to reverse damage that has already occurred.


paint photo


Lead Exposure is Common in Thailand

In the US, all paint must be free of lead by law since 1978. In Thailand, there currently is no law. A recent study of 120 paint samples from 68 Thai brands by the Asian Lead Paint Elimination Project conducted by the Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH) aimed to determine how many were in compliance with the Thai Industrial Standards Institute (TISI) standards allowing not more than 100 parts per million of lead. The TISI standard is not a law, and companies are free to comply with it on a voluntary basis. Sadly, and perhaps not surprisingly, 79% of the samples had lead levels that exceeded the standard, including some with levels more than 100 times the limit. Some of the paints with toxic levels of lead had “lead-free paint” labels. So the bottom line for parents is you must be vigilant. I have listed environmental sources of lead in household below. Take a moment to walk around your home and also around the gardens to see if you can any identify potential threats. To protect your children, early identification through testing between the ages of 3-6 reduces the risk of serious damage from lead. To learn more, take the time to read this helpful resource.

 Potential Sources of Lead

Paint Lead was used in paint to add color, improve the ability of the paint to hide the surface it covers, and to make it last longer. In 1978 the US government banned lead paint for use in homes but many Thai paints still contain lead (see above). Lead-based paint becomes a concern when it chips, turns into dust, or gets into the soil. Children eat the chips or inhale the lead dust.


Lead dust is the most common way that people are exposed to lead. Inside the home, most lead dust comes from chipping and flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded, or disturbed during home remodeling. Chipping and peeling paint is found mostly on surfaces that rub or bump up against another surface. These surfaces include doors and windows. Young children usually get exposed to lead when they put something with lead dust on it into their mouths. Lead dust is not visible to the naked eye.


By far, the greatest environmental increase occurred in the 20th century, due mostly to the burning of tetra-ethyl lead in automotive engines and the subsequent distribution of lead in the atmosphere that later settles into the soil. Leaded gasoline was banned in Thailand in 1995. However, lead from car exhaust mixed with soil near roads and is still there today. Homes near busy streets may have higher levels of lead in the soil. Today, lead still comes from metal smelting, battery manufacturing, and other factories that use lead. This lead gets into the air and then mixes with the soil near homes, especially if the home is near one of these sources.

Drinking Water

Lead seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household or building plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect houses and buildings to water mains.

Folk medicines, ayurvedics and cosmetics

Some traditional and folk medicines contain lead. They often are from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and India. For example, pay-loo-ah is red and/or yellow powder used to treat a rash or a fever that contains lead. Ayurvedic medications may contain herbs, minerals, metals, or animal products that contain lead. These medicines may come in both standardized and non-standardized formulations. Parents should be very cautious about using these medications with children.

Children’s jewelry and toys

Lead can be found in inexpensive children’s jewelry in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. It is important to make sure that children don’t handle or mouth any jewelry. Cheap painted toys are also a common source of lead exposure.

Hobbies, Lead-glazed ceramics, leaded crystal, pewter

Some hobbies use lead. These hobbies include making pottery, stained glass, or refinishing furniture. It is important to keep all lead objects away from children! Wash hands with soap and water after handling items that contain led.  Lead may get into foods or liquids that have been stored in ceramics, pottery, china, or crystal with lead in it.

Food in cans that are sealed with lead solder

In 1995 the United States banned the use of lead solder on cans. But lead solder can still be found on some cans made in East Asia. These cans usually have wide seams, and the silver-gray solder along the seams contains the lead. Over time the lead gets into the food. Foods that are acidic cause lead to get into the food faster.

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