Lead - You can't see it, taste it or smell it. But without knowing it, you may have lead in the dust, paint or soil in and around your home - even in your drinking water or food. And because it does not break down naturally, lead can remain a problem until it is discovered and removed.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when lead enters the body through the nose or mouth. Even a single, very high exposure can cause damage. This can happen by:
Lead poisoning in children
- Breathing in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces.
- Touching an object with lead dust, then placing the hand in tor near the mouth.
- Eating paint chips or soil that contains lead.
- Eating food from a contaminated bowl or drinking water from a contaminated pipe.
Lead poisoning is especially serious in children. Children's growing bodies absorb more lead, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. The younger the child, the greater the danger.
THe problem is not uncommon - one out of eleven children in the United States has dangerous levels of lead in the bloodstream. Even children who appear healthy can be affected.
The long term effects of lead poisoning in a child can be severe. If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
- Damage to the brain and nervous system.
- Behavior and learning problems, such as hyperactivity and reduced IQ.
- Slow growth.
- Impaired hearing.
If caught early, these effects can be limited by reducing exposure to lead and/or by medical treatment. Treatment can range from changes in the diet to medication or a hospital stay.Lead poisoning in adults
High levels of lead in adults can result in:
- Difficulties during pregnancy.
- Reproductive problems in both men and women.
- High blood pressure.
- Digestive problems.
- Nerve disorders.
- Memory and concentration problems.
- Muscle and join pain.
- Mood changes.
- Kidney damage.
Lead exposure can harm babies even before birth. Avoid exposure to lead if you are pregnant - it can pass through your body to your baby. Testing for Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning in children and adults can be detected by a simple blood test by your doctor r at a health clinic. It is inexpensive and sometimes free. A blood test takes only ten minutes, and the results should be ready within a week. Your doctor will explain what the test results mean and what treatment, if any, is required.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be tested for the first time when they are a year old - or at six months if you think your home has lead in it, or if you live in an older building with cracking or peeling paint.
Children older than one year should have a blood test every two years - or every year if your home contains lead paint, or if you use lead in your job or hobby.Possible Lead Poisoning Sources: Lead-Based Paint
One of the most prevalent sources of lead in our environment is lead-based paint. Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint, and some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. Lead-based paint could be on the walls, window frames and sills, doors and door frames, stairs, banisters, railings, furniture, the building's exterior, fences, backyard play equipment or on other surfaces.
Lead-based paint in good condition is not usually a problem. Lead-based paint is a problem on:
- surfaces where children can chew. For example, on cribs and playpens.
- Surfaces that get a lot of wear and tear, creating dust. For example, stairs, railings and banisters.
- Surfaces that rub against each other and create dust. For example, when opened and closed paint surfaces of windows and doors rub against each other.
Peeling, chipping, chalking or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention. Paint chips could be eaten by a child. Chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled dust can reenter the air when you vacuum, sweep or just walk through the room. Testing Your Home
A home paint inspection should be done by a qualified professional. While do-it-yourself lead testing kits are available, recent studies have shown that they are not always accurate. Home test kits cannot select small amounts of lead under some conditions, and consumers should not rely on these tests to assure safety.
Trained professionals use a rage of methods when checking a home:
- Visual inspection of paint condition and location.
- Surface dust tests.
- A portable x-ray florescence machine.
- Lab tests of paint samples.
A home paint inspection can include a paint inspection, a risk assessment, or both.
- A paint inspection tells the lead content of every painted surface in your home. It won't tell if the paint is a hazard, or how you should deal with it.
- A risk assessment will tell if there are any sources of serious lead exposure, such as peeling paint and lead dust. It also tells what actions to take to address these hazards.
Your local state health or environmental agency may be able to provide information on finding a qualified lead inspector or lead abatement firm in your area, and on possible sources of financial aid for reducing lead hazards. Some local or state health departments even test for free. Lead in Drinking Water
Most well or city water does not naturally contain lead. Lead usually enters household water after the water leaves the local treatment plant or well. You cannot see, smell or taste the lead, ad boiling the water will not get rid of it.
It is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10% and 20% of total lead exposure in young children. In infants, whose diets consist of liquids made with water (for example, formula and juice), lead in drinking water accounts for an even greater percentage - between 40% and 60%.
Water can pick up lead within the home from lead pipes, copper pipes with lead solder, or brass faucets or fittings, even if certified "lead-free."
Since June 988, federal regulations require the use of lead-free pipes, solder and flux in the installation or repair of plumbing connected to public water systems. This legislation does not cover lead in pre-1988 plumbing, or plumbing connected to private water systems or wells.
If you think your plumbing might contain lead or lead solder, take the following precautions:
Lead in the Soil
- Have your water tested - it's the only way to know for sure if it contains lead. Call your local health department, water supplier or th EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline, 1-800-426-4791, to learn how.
- Flush your cold water tap. Household water contains more lead if it sits for a log time in the pipes. Run the water for 30 to 60 seconds before drinking, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours. After flushing, fill several bottles with water and store in your refrigerator for later use that day. (The first water out of the tap can be safely used for washing dishes or clothes.)
Note: Flushing may not be effective in high-rise buildings with large diameter supply pipes.
- Never drink, cook with or make baby formula with water from the hot water tap. Hot water dissolves lead more quickly than cold water. (Bathing is not a problem since lead does not enter the body through the skin.) Consider using bottled water for baby formula, drinking ad cooking.
- Purchase a filter certified for lead removal. Call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline 1-800-426-4791, for filter information.
Soil can become contaminated from lead paint on the exterior of buildings or playground equipment. Soil by roads or highways may be contaminated from years of exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Local lead smelters or other industries may also release lead into the air that is absorbed into the soil.
Lead in the soil can be a hazard when children play outdoors, or when people bring soil into the home on hands, clothes or shoes. A few precautions can decrease the danger.
- Encourage your children to play in sand or grassy areas instead of dirt, which sticks to fingers and toys.
- Try to keep your children from eating dirt.
- Wash hands after playing or working outdoors, or after working with soil, such as repotting plants.
- Plant grass to cover soil with high levels of lead.
- Take your shoes off at the door, and wear indoor shoes or slippers inside.
Call your state agency to find out about soil testing and/or clean-up recommendations for lead in the soil. Other Lead Sources
Lead can be introduced into your home in other ways.
Protecting Your Family
- Your job. If you work n construction, demolition or painting, with batteries, in a radiator repair shop or lead factory, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands, clothes or shoes. Wash up and change clothes before going home.
- Your hobby. Hobbies such as making pottery, stained glass or furniture refinishing can introduce lead into the home.
- Toys and furniture. Old toys and furniture, including children's cribs, playpens, beds and dressers may have been painted with lead-based paint.
- Food and liquid containers. Foods and liquids cooked or stored in lead crystal or lead glazed pottery or porcelain can absorb lead from their containers. Be careful with imported pitchers and bowls, and make sure they are lead free. Never store foods in open cans. After opening, store in glass, plastic or stainless steel containers. If you reuse plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.
- Imported vinyl mini-blinds. Imported vinyl mini-blinds purchased prior to July 1996 may be a lead hazard for young children Some manufacturers added lead to stabilize the plastic. The deterioration of the plastic from heat and sun produces lead in the dust. Washing the mini-blinds does not prevent the deterioration. If you have children six years or under, the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission recommends removal of the mini-blinds. We purchasing new mini-blinds, look for a label stating that they are lead-free or made without added lead.
- Folk remedies. Folk remedies may contain lead. For example, "greta" or "azarcon" used to treat upset stomachs.
- Local industries. Lead smelters or other local industries may release lead into the air, which can settle in and around your home.
- Playground equipment. Backyard, school and public gym equipment (Swings, slides, hand-over-hand bars, etc.) with peeling paint can pose a danger to children. Notify your school or park department if you suspect a hazard at a local playground.
If you suspect that your home has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family's risk.
- Remove paint chips immediately.
- Wash floors, window sills, widow frames, cribs and other chewable painted surfaces twice weekly. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and powdered automatic dishwasher detergent or a cleaner made specifically for lead. (Dishwasher detergents are recommended because of their high phosphate content. Most multi-purpose cleaners do not contain phosphates and are not effective in cleaning lead dust.) Wear rubber gloves to avoid possible skin irritation. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dusty or dirty areas.
- Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
- Keep children from chewing window sills, cribs, playpens or other painted surfaces.
- Wash children's hands often, especially before they eat and before nap time and bed time.
- Feed your children nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium. Children who get enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods rich i iron include eggs, lean red meat and beans. Foods rich in calcium are milk, cheese and other dairy products.
- Remove your shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from the soil.
- Don't burn painted wood. It may contain lead, and heat will release it into the air.
- If you are renting a house or apartment and are aware of any dangers, notify your landlord immediately.
For more information on home safety, please call us or contact us using our contact form.