What's up with lead?

What if we told you that there is an invisible element wreaking havoc on our society, poisoning children and causing elevated crime levels, decreased performance in schools, and increased health costs?

That element is lead, and it’s been with us since humans started mining it out of the ground thousands of years ago. Because we can’t see lead in its most pervasive form, microscopic dust, or on the walls and pipes in our homes and environment, we often only detect lead’s presence after a child has been exposed. At that point, the damage has likely been done, and its effects may remain with its victims for life. 

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Why is lead a problem? 

Children have a high sensitivity to lead as their bodies and brains are developing. There are serious consequences resulting from children exposed to lead dust. Lead poisoning can affect brain development and cause learning disabilities, lowered IQ, behavior and attention problems, hearing damage, nervous system and kidney damage.

Many studies indicate a direct connection between lead poisoning and poor performance in the schools, learning disabilities, juvenile delinquency and violent crime.

A growing body of literature is detailing the societal costs of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is related to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders and the need for special education. The correlation between early lead exposure to adult-onset health problems is proven. The financial impacts are evident when considering lifetime earning potential, health care, education, and the direct costs of crime.

Where does lead come from?

Lead-Based Paint
Homes built before 1978 tend to contain lead-based paint, which is a major hazard to children. 37 million homes contain lead-based paint—or 35% of homes in the U.S.

Leaded Gasoline
From 1925 to 1996, lead was added to gasoline in the United States. Exhaust from vehicles using leaded gasoline spewed 4 to 5 million tons of lead across the country, posing a serious threat to human health, especially in dense urban areas.

Lead in Water
Lead pipes have been used for water distribution in major US cities since the late 1800s. Lead still exists in service pipes, interior water pipes and tap fixtures, and can be made mobile through leaching and exacerbated by corrosion.

Lead hazards in homes include:

  • Lead dust from lead-based paint

  • Chipped paint from walls, furniture, or windows

  • Increased lead dust, air particulates, and paint chips from improper remodeling

  • Lead-contaminated tap water

What are the effects
of lead poisoning?

  • Permanent brain damage 

  • Lowered IQ

  • Liver damage

  • Kidney damage

  • Digestive problems

  • Nervous system damage

  • Impaired muscle coordination

  • In acute cases, the effects of lead poisoning can include convulsions, coma, or death.


Symptoms of lead poisoning aren’t easy to detect. They include:

  • Tiredness, weakness, or lethargy

  • Irritability or crankiness

  • Reduced attention span

  • Loss of appetite

  • Inability to retain information

  • Weight loss

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Constipation

  • Stomach aches or pains

  • Increased violent behavior

  • Swelling of the brain

Now You See It

Now You See It is a two-part animated video series communicates the invisible threat of lead. These videos were written by Mel Chin, animated by Careen Ingle with soundtrack by Zig Gron. Produced in partnership with LA Freewaves, advised by Southern California Health and Housing Council and the Healthy Homes Collaborative.