Although people of all ages are susceptible to lead poisoning, children under six years old and fetuses are at greatest risk of harmful health effects from lead poisoning. Young children frequently crawl on floors or furniture and put their hands or other objects in their mouth, which increases the likelihood of contact with lead dust and of putting that dust into their mouths. Additionally, more of the lead that gets into their mouth is taken up into their bodies. Finally, because their brains and nervous systems are still forming, the harmful impact of lead absorption into young bodies can be greater.
In California, children with lead poisoning are more likely to come from low-income families and recent immigrant families. In large part, this is because these groups are more likely to live in older housing that is poorly maintained, so the risk of contact with lead-contaminated soil, paint or dust is higher. Additionally, some immigrant families may use imported consumer products such as cosmetics, pottery or spices that contain lead. Finally, children whose family members work in occupations that use lead or that involve contact with lead-contaminated dust are at risk of contact with the dust brought home on clothing, shoes, or equipment.
Testing for lead at 12 and 24 months is therefore recommended for the following groups because of their higher risk of lead poisoning: children in publicly funded health care, children who spend time in buildings built before 1978, and any child with a family member who works with lead.