The Long Term Effects of Lead on Human Health

Although the dangers of lead are well documented, it’s been used extensively in construction for many years. It wasn’t until 1978 that the United States officially banned the use of lead materials in new construction.  Lead poisoning poses a significant risk to children and other occupants of older homes. Understanding the long term effects of lead on human health is essential if you ever feel your family is exposed to the harmful material.

What Is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning manifests itself in a multitude of ways. In children, there are significantly dangerous symptoms that can lead to lasting developmental and health impacts. Lead exposure often creates further issues for existing problems in adults. Let’s take a look at some of the common lead-related health problems.  

What Are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?

There are many common risks associated with lead poisoning, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Children are most at risk of receiving the harshest effects of the affliction. Symptoms found in younglings dealing with lead poisoning typically include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures

Although lead poisoning mostly occurs in children, there are risks associated with exposure in adults as well. Lead poisoning in adults usually further exacerbates existing conditions, such as:

  • Memory loss and difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Mood disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fertility issues (reduced sperm count or abnormal sperm in men; miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth in women)

The dangers of lead have been well documented for a few hundred years. However, it wasn’t until 1978 that the United States banned the use of the substance in new construction. Even with the ban, millions of American citizens live in older homes affected by lead exposure every day. Look out for lead poisoning symptoms, especially if you’re at a higher risk of exposure through certain activities, locations, or occupations. 

How Can I Be Exposed to Lead?

There are several ways in which the occupants of a residence become exposed to lead. Most people assume lead is only found in old pipes and peeling paint. However, lead is also potentially present in other areas, including:

  • Household dust
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Air
  • Imported commercial products (i.e., toys, makeup, ceramics, candles, jewelry, vinyl products, etc.)

Many homeowners believe that since the United States banned lead paint in new construction works, they’re no longer at risk. However, there is always a chance that lead is present in homes built before 1978. Damage done by lead poisoning is often severe and irreversible, so it’s essential to understand where lead is potentially present in a home. Some locations where lead is usually found in homes include:

  • Stairs
  • Handrails and banisters
  • Porches
  • Doors and door frames
  • Windows and window frames
  • Trimming and molding

The amount these interior components are moved around and touched determines how detrimental they are to human health.  People are constantly coming in contact with things like stairs, handrails, and doors. Children are at risk of exposure to lead when crawling or playing near trim or on a porch. As the paint on these elements deteriorates, the chips and dust can easily be ingested unknowingly by occupants, causing serious, long-term problems. 

Who Is at the Highest Risk for Lead Exposure?

Certain occupations and activities are at higher risk for lead exposure; this is typically due to the materials used or a person’s environment. Many jobs, especially in construction, require EPA certifications for any work done where there is a risk for lead exposure. Specific safety protocols are put in place to reduce the risk of workers tracking lead out of the construction site. Besides construction workers, other activities and occupations often at risk for lead exposure include:

  • Autobody repair
  • Plumbing
  • Welding
  • Mining
  • Manufacturing
  • Painting
  • Soldering
  • Pottery making
  • Glass blowing or stained glass work
  • Shooting firearms

Professionals and hobbyists alike have to look out for lead exposure symptoms, especially if they’re in an at-risk environment often. 

What Causes Lead Poisoning?

It’s proven that children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults. You might be wondering what causes the prevalence of lead poisoning in children. Both behavior and physiology play integral roles in causing lead poisoning in children. Let’s take a look at how these two key factors contribute to high levels of lead poisoning in children:

  • Behavior: Children have a finite understanding of illnesses and contamination. They’re more likely to touch surfaces containing lead, then touch their face, eyes, mouth, and more, leading to increased opportunity for exposure.
  • Physiology: Simply put, children have a higher respiratory rate than adults. The more they breathe, the more they inhale dangerous dust particles that cause lead poisoning. The chemistry of children’s stomach contents also causes faster absorption rates of lead.

In older homes where lead is present, adults can come into contact with materials covered with lead paint or dust. If you’re always touching your home’s components like doors, window frames, and handrails, the possibility for lead exposure and poisoning increases. Other lead poisoning causes include contact with old pipes, contaminated water, soil, and manufactured materials. 

How To Treat Lead Poisoning

Lead is an incredibly toxic substance that poses an extreme risk to everyone. However, it’s undoubtedly more detrimental to at-risk populations like kids, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.

There is a range of treatments for lead poisoning, from simple solutions to complex chelation therapy. If there is a low level of lead present in the blood, removing the lead source from a location with abatement might be enough to reduce the threat of poisoning. However, if symptoms are more severe, treatment with chelation therapy is required. 

Chelation Therapy

Medical professionals typically recommend chelation therapy for children with lead blood levels of 45 mcg/dL or higher. This treatment involves ingesting an oral medication that binds with the lead to be passed through the child’s urine.

EDTA Chelation Therapy

EDTA chelation therapy is typically given as treatment to adults with lead blood levels higher than 45 mcg/dL. It’s also applied to children who react adversely to standard chelation therapy methods. EDTA chelation therapy involves injecting calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) into the patient. The chemical binds to lead and removes it from the blood. 

What Are the Long Term Health Impacts of Lead Exposure?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to lead can create lasting negative impacts on human health. Children are often impacted more significantly, leading to significant issues later on in life. Lead exposure in childhood leads to long term effects like:

  • Cognitive development issues
  • Lowered I.Q.
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Liver and kidney damage

For adults experiencing the effects of lead exposure, you’ll frequently find that existing conditions are further exacerbated. Issues including mood disorders, high blood pressure, memory, and joint or muscle pain are made worse by lead exposure in adulthood. Clearly, lead exposure can wreak havoc on your health, so it’s crucial you understand how to prevent lead poisoning as a homeowner. 

How Can I Prevent Lead Poisoning?

If you suspect the presence of lead in your residence, there are several steps to take to prevent any household members from experiencing lead poisoning. Children are at disproportionately high risk, so be proactive in protecting your kids from potential poisoning.

Preventing Lead Poisoning in Children

Tiny toddlers are known for their tendency to touch tons of things and put inappropriate objects in their mouths. It’s essential to inform your children about the dangers of lead poisoning as soon as they can understand the subject. Unfortunately, that won’t work for infants or children that are too young to understand. Instead, identify possible locations of lead in your home and keep an eye on infants to ensure that contact with these touchpoints is minimized.

Another way to prevent the possibility of lead poisoning is through a lead abatement project. If your home was built before 1978, consider renovating the structure to meet new health and safety standards.

Lead Considerations For Your Next Construction Project

If you’re concerned about the safety of your home, consult with an EPA-certified lead renovation specialist to find the best course of action to take when removing lead materials from your home. There are several preventative measures to keep the occupants of your residence safe during and after new construction.

Utilize a lead paint inspection during the early stages to identify any lead-contaminated paint present in the home. Inspectors who obtain a lead paint inspection certification are experts on identifying lead contaminants in residences.

The next step to a safe construction project is contacting a lead risk assessor. A certified lead risk assessor will carefully examine your home and identify any areas of lead paint exposure, including peeling, chipping paint, and lingering dust. 

Finally, to fully remove contaminated paint from your home, you need to complete a lead abatement job. Abatement differs distinctly from lead renovation, repair, or painting (RRP) because it involves the complete removal of lead paint from a residence. Lead abatement requires specific certifications that differ from those required for RRP projects.

Wrapping Up

Lead paint was a common component of construction materials for decades. Now, we understand the risks associated with the exposure to lead. The substance is banned in construction use, paints, and manufactured products in the United States. However, tens of thousands of homes in the country contain lead paint and dust particles. 

The most crucial step in removing the risk of lead poisoning is to eradicate the issue altogether. Contact an EPA-certified lead inspector and risk assessor specialist to discern the level of lead present in your home. Then, a certified lead abatement specialist or renovator can easily seal off or completely remove any of the substance that’s found there. 

Lead poisoning has lasting long term health effects on humans. Homeowners must be proactive in protecting children, elderly relatives, and at-risk inhabitants from lead poisoning. Understand the signs and symptoms of the sickness so you can seek treatment. If you feel exceptionally unsafe in your older home, it’s time to call a professional to remove the source of your anxieties.