About 4 million households with children harbor a serious health risk because of high lead levels, warns the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s true that the number of children with blood levels more than the CDC recommended reference level has declined precipitously in recent years. However, nearly a half million children have blood levels above five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). Exposure in children under five can have lifetime consequences because of impacts to physical and mental development.
Since it is a naturally-occurring material, you can find lead all around, including in the soil and water. Lead may exist in older homes in linoleum, roofing materials, or lead-based paints. Older collectible items such as metal toys, old fishing gear, and antique furniture may also contain lead. Homes built before 1986 might have lead pipes and solder, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
How to Identify Poisoning
Lead exposure is especially dangerous because it accumulates in your body’s tissues. Over time, even small amounts pose a health risk. Even your cat or dog can get lead poisoning. Symptoms are often non-specific, making detection difficult. Signs of lead exposure in children include:
- Weight loss
- Learning difficulties, such as attention-related behaviors
Likewise, adults may experience similar non-diagnostic symptoms, such as high blood pressure, joint pain, and headaches. Left untreated, lead exposure can damage your kidneys and nervous system. In the most severe cases, it can cause seizures and death. Therefore, protecting your family from lead exposure is essential.
If you suspect lead contamination, don’t hesitate to get you or your children tested for lead exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends regular screening for children through age 6. Regular testing is a sound practice for adults who may be exposed to lead from their work or hobbies. The challenge is minimal exposure often shows few if any symptoms.
Limiting Lead Exposure
Even though lead is a common element, there are several things you can do to limit your exposure. The only ways that lead can get into your body is through inhaling it or ingesting it. Therefore, these are the areas on which you should focus your attention. Remember, no amount of lead is safe for any person or pet in your household.
Lead-Based Paints and Dust
Lead-based paints pose the greatest risk—especially in homes built before 1978. You’ve painted over most places in your home even if it is that old. However, you look out for potential trouble spots. Make looking for flaking or peeling paint a high priority on all surfaces, including windows sills and door jams.
You can safely seal lead paint by merely painting over it. Painting over these areas will prevent additional flaking as well as the accumulation of dust from deteriorating paint. A lead-based paint inspector can determine if any other areas signal a red flag. You can also opt for a risk assessment to determine if other problem areas exist, such as dust or soil.
If you’re planning on renovating because lead was detected, leave the task to EPA or state Lead-Safe Certified renovation firms. These individuals are trained to minimize lead-contaminated dust and to dispose of toxic waste safely. To prevent future risks, you should keep your paint in good shape. Take time to regularly clean up dust on all surfaces.
You should also check high-traffic areas often for peeling or flaking paint. If you have hardwood floors, avoid using devices that can remove paint with harsh scrubbing. The same precautions apply to other painted surfaces, such as walls. Your goal is to minimize dust that may contain lead.
Maintaining Safe Drinking Water
Home built before 1986 may have lead pipes. A similar risk exists with non-plastic plumbing. While water companies typically test for lead, you may want to test your home’s drinking water with a lead testing kit. Testing by a certified laboratory will tell you if your water is safe to drink.
If lead is present, you have a few options. You can replace the fixtures with lead-free materials. If this isn’t possible for you, you can drink bottled water or use a water filter instead. Make you use sure a water filter certified for lead removal.
Preventing Risks from Lead in the Soil
Lead exists close to the surface in the Earth’s crust. Therefore, contact with bare soil can put you and children at risk for exposure. To prevent possible contact with lead, make it a house rule for everyone to leave their shoes at the door when coming home. You should also teach your children to wash their hands after returning from play—following your lead, of course.
If there are bare spots on your lawn, cover them with grass or sod. Children or pets can track contaminated soil into your home. The same precautions apply to areas outside of the immediate vicinity around your home, including vacant lots and construction sites. Wherever soil is exposed, the risk exists that lead may lurk in these places.
Before regulations came into play, manufacturers often used lead to produce many everyday items, including metal toys, costume jewelry, and pewter, to name a few. But that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of Grandma’s lead crystal. Instead, avoid drinking or eating from lead-glazed containers. This precaution includes ceramic dishes for your pets that may be improperly glazed.
You should also exercise caution when using pottery from countries outside of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe which may leach lead. So, in addition to the items mentioned above, do not use pottery for eating or drinking. The same precaution applies to crystal decanters and glasses. A similar risk exists from lead leaching into liquids stored in these containers.
Work-Related Lead Exposure
Lead exposure can occur in individuals working in jobs where lead is used. Auto body shops, mining operations, and battery recycling centers pose risks for lead exposure. The EPA recommends showering before leaving work if possible. At the very least, wash work clothes separate from the household laundry to prevent contamination.
Hobbies that Use Lead-Based Materials
Jobs that use lead-based products aren’t the only source of accidental lead exposure. Hobbies such as working with stained glass or refurbishing old furniture carry similar risks. Precautions for work-related exposure can apply in these cases too. As a general rule of thumb, always wash your hands after handling any lead-containing materials.
Regulations Keeping You Safe
Several laws and regulations exist both at the federal and state water to limit your lead exposure. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) protects your drinking water from contaminants like lead. Also, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 specifically targets the issue of lead-based paints, including certification for contractors for safe removal. Other regulations focus on contamination from air and lead waste/cleanup.
By following these guidelines in your home, you can minimize your family’s exposure to lead. Simple precautions like washing your hands after working outside in the garden can prevent lead contamination. You can become part of the solution of the CDC’s Healthy People 2020 program to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.