Lead-based paint was primarily used in homes built before 1978 until the federal government banned the use of it in any new construction. The paint contains a highly toxic metal, lead, which is responsible for many health and behavioral issues in children and adults.
Many studies have been done on the immediate and long-term effects that exposure to lead paint can cause. According to the CDC, there is no safe level of blood lead levels (BLL) in children. Readings lower than 10 µg/dL can still be potentially harmful, and the CDC recommends re-testing within a two-year period.
About Lead-Based Paint
This toxic paint can be found on the inside and outside of the home. Cracked and peeling paint can mix with the dust particles, carrying the toxin through the air. Younger children are more susceptible to lead exposure due to their curious nature of touching possibly contaminated surfaces, then putting their hands in their mouths.
Children can also become poisoned by eating paint chips that have flaked off the walls, railings or window sills, and by playing in the lead-contaminated soil. Lead poisoning has been known to cause a wide variety of health issues ranging from headaches and nausea to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and in extreme cases, death.
Effects of Exposure to Lead
Lead toxicity affects nearly every organ in the body. At low exposure levels, it can adversely affect the brain, blood cells, kidneys and central nervous system. Higher levels of exposure can be life-threatening.
Babies in utero and young children that are exposed to lead paint can suffer severe effects. Delays in mental development due to elevated BLLs have been studied and found that it lowers IQ levels, increases behavioral issues and shortened attention spans.
Symptoms may not always present initially upon exposure to lead. Normally, lead poisoning builds over time, so there may not be any obvious symptoms showing at first. Even low levels of exposure can be harmful to a child’s development. Health problems will get more severe as the levels of the lead rise in the blood.
Some of the possible symptoms include:
- Hearing loss
- Loss of appetite
- Fertility complications
- Abdominal pain
- Aggressive behavior
Other complications include:
- Reduced IQ
- Failure in school
- Behavior or attention span problems including ADHD
- Slowed body growth
Additional studies have been performed that provide evidence for children exposed to lead paint and continued behavioral problems in adulthood. The University of Cincinnati concluded a 30-year study that showed more than half of a test group that had been exposed to lead poisoning through their home environments went on to commit a variety of crimes as adults.
How to Make the Home Lead-Free
If you suspect that there may be lead paint in your home, find a state-certified inspector who is licensed to test for lead. Once the results confirm the presence of the lead, there are a few things you can do until plans are made to contain or remove it from the house.
- Keep the home as dust-free as possible. The lead from the paint can mix with the dust particles in the air, so maintaining the home free of dust can reduce that amount inhaled.
- Be sure everyone living in the house to wash their hands before eating anything.
- Discard any old toys with paint, especially if they are chipped or peeling.
- Take off your shoes before entering the house to be sure no lead-contaminated soil gets tracked in.
- Eat as healthy as possible. A diet rich in beneficial nutrients, like vitamin C, calcium and iron, can make it more difficult for the lead to absorb into the body.
Lead poisoning causes many health problems in children that can result in even more adverse conditions in adulthood. Symptoms may not always be present at first and tend to build over the course of the exposure. Testing the house for lead, and the blood lead levels of the individuals living in the home will help determine whether there is cause for worry.
Children are most susceptible and carry the bigger risk of severe complications to develop. If lead is detected in the home, seek immediate medical help.