This fact sheet was originally an email,  the first in a series of twelve for child care providers in New York State that have been trained on EcoHealthy Child Care (R) and toxic chemical reduction and elimination strategies by Clean and Healthy New York.  We hope you find them helpful and they inspire to you keep taking steps to reduce the hidden toxic chemicals in your setting.



Lead: Toxic Heavy Metal


What's the problem?


It's been in the news a lot lately. The Flint, Michigan's crisis has reminded us all that the legacy of lead in our water pipes, paint, and gasoline has long lasting impacts. Lead can harm our health in a variety of ways, and children are especially vulnerable. Lead poisoning can cause loss of IQ, poor impulse control, kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart disease, and infertility. It is considered to probably cause cancer.(1) According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no safe level of lead in our bodies.(2)

Spot it: Where can lead be found?


  • In the kitchen: drinking water contaminated by lead in pipes, cracked ceramic dishes, pewter, hand-painted ceramics

  • Around the house: lead paint can be present in older homes

  • Outdoors: soil can be contaminated by lead from car exhaust back when lead was in gasoline - because lead is an element, it doesn't break down and stays in the soil.

  • In the toy box: Toys and jewelry made before 2009 can contain high levels of lead; newer jewelry made for adults but handed down to children; newer toys and other children's items have been found to contain lead (particularly do-it-yourself jewelry kits).



What can I do?


  1. Flush water from taps any time it has been standing for a while, especially at the start of the day. Run water until it gets colder - you'll become familiar with the change that happens once fresh water is flowing - about a minute.

  2. Avoid cracked ceramic dishes, pewter cups or utensils, hand-painted ceramics, ceramics printed with dark inks. Choose stainless steel and glass when possible.

  3. Find out if you have lead in wall paint. Don't rely on sticks from the hardware store, as these can give false negatives. County Departments of Health have devices to test for lead and may be able to come to your location if it was built before 1979.

  4. Maintain painted window frames, baseboards, and walls with fresh paint.

  5. Damp mop to pick up dirt. Lead in soil is tracked in (as are many other outdoor pollutants). Encourage kids and parents to leave shoes at the door, especially where babies play, and have "walk off" mats - 10-15 foot long runners at the entrance to capture outdoor debris. Wash these often.

  6. Spread grass seed or create wildflower beds to cover bare soil. Don't allow children to play in bare soil, especially near roads or where cars park/idle.

  7. Remove children's products made before 2009, when federal law changed. Don't accept donations of used toys. Don't give children access to adult costume jewelry. Keep an eye out for manufacturer recalls



Learn more


Many tips provided here are also provided by the NYS Department of Health's "What Child Care Providers Need to Know About Lead"




(2) American Academy of Pediatrics "Lead Exposure in Children"



NYSP2I is dedicated to helping NYS residents and businesses find implementable and cost-effective sustainability solutions.

Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or Department of Environmental Conservation.

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