Lead (chemical symbol is Pb) is a naturally occurring metal. It can be found in a wide variety of products in homes, on work sites, and in the environment.
Today, childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children, yet approximately half a million U.S. children have blood-lead levels greater than or equal to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) action level of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (≥3.5µg/dL). – From CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
What are Some Sources of Lead in our Environment?
Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure to lead. Historically, organic lead was used in gasoline as an anti-knocking compound. The lead in leaded gasoline resulted in contaminated exhaust and soil, therefore the use of leaded gasoline was phased out. More of a concern today is the historical use of lead in paint, especially in homes built before 1978. Also, lead-based paint is still used in some industrial applications.
Lead in Homes
Approximately 24 million housing units in the United States have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.
There are some clues to determine if your family is at risk for lead exposure, one being the year that a house was constructed. Houses built before 1950 are very likely to contain lead-based paint and the deterioration of this paint causes a problem. In 1978, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based paint from being used in residential construction. Only use mini-blinds labeled as "lead-safe" or "no lead added".
How is Someone Exposed to Lead?
Lead can get into your body by breathing it in (contaminated house dust), drinking it (in the case of lead pipes and fixtures), or eating it (chipping paint or dirt). Children are exposed when they either chew on painted surfaces, like window sills or crib rails that have been painted with lead-based paint or when there is deteriorating lead-based paint and they crawl on lead-containing dust and then put their hands into their mouths or breathe in lead-containing dust. In most cases, adults are exposed to lead at work when they perform welding, renovation and remodeling activities, work in smelters, firing ranges, battery manufacture or disposal, and/or the repair/maintenance of water towers or bridges.
Who is at Risk?
Children are more sensitive than adults to the effects of lead. All children under the age of 6 years old are at risk because they are growing so rapidly and tend to put their hands, toys, or other objects, into their mouths. Children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk.
Most adults are more likely to be exposed to lead from their occupation such as welding, renovation and remodeling activities, maintenance and bridge and water tower repair or from a hobby, such as casting bullets or stained glass making.
How Can Exposure to Lead Affect Me?
Lead affects the neurological system, especially in developing children. Exposure to lead during their developmental years has been shown to lower the IQ of children. Lead poisoning can cause comas, seizures, and death in some cases.
For adults, exposure to lead can increase blood pressure, cause fertility problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, irritability, and memory or concentration problems.
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Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead before they are harmed and treating children who have been poisoned by lead. There are many ways to reduce a child's exposure to lead in his/her environment; the first step is to identify any hazards and control or remove them safely.
What Can be Done to Prevent Exposure to Lead at my Residence?
It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child may spend a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or daycare). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation or cleanup.
- Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint;
- Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window sills and horizontal surfaces;
- Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources;
- Keep children away from chipping or peeling paint;
- Regularly wash children's hands and toys, especially after exposure to household dust or exterior soil;
- Provide sandboxes or cover the soil with grass, mulch, or wood chips in outdoor play areas.
What Can be Done to Prevent Exposure to Lead from Non-residential Sources?
- Avoid using traditional home remedies and cosmetics that may contain lead;
- Use lead free containers, cookware, or tableware for storing and cooking foods;
- Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry that contain lead and avoid eating candies imported from Mexico;
- Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and baby formula (Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead). Most lead in household water comes from the plumbing, not from the local water supply;
- When exposed to lead in the workplace, prevent taking lead-contaminated clothes home with you. Also, shower and change clothes after finishing a task working with lead-based products such as stain glass work, bullet making, or using a firing range.