Beautiful old homes and play jewelry are just two of the items that may seem benign, but may hold a hidden danger — lead.
Lead is highly neurotoxic. Lead poisoning in children can result in learning disabilities, memory loss, lowered IQ, attention deficit disorder and other behavior problems.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), close to 38 million U.S. homes built before 1978 contain lead paint. Though lead paint has been banned in this country, children are still exposed to it, primarily from the chipping of old paint. Very young children are especially at risk as they may put these paint chips in their mouths (I did when I was 3 years old and had to be hospitalized.) The dust created by simply opening and closing lead-painted windows and doors can harm a child.
We’ve all heard recalls on toys containing lead. Even when there is little risk when children touch these toys, health-threatening results can occur when children put these toys in their mouths. This easily happens with items such as cheap toy jewelry. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asks that parents search their children’s toys for metal jewelry and throw it away.
Families can also be exposed to lead from their drinking water, due to lead piping, lead pipe contractors, lead-soldered joints and lead-containing brass faucets and pump components.
The soil around your home can be a significant source of lead exposure, and levels tend to be highest where the foundation walls meet the ground. Lead-contaminated soil is a problem when children play outdoors, when soil is tracked inside the home, and when vegetables are grown in contaminated soil. Soils may be contaminated by flaking, peeling, or chalking lead-based paint. Some common household items that contain lead include coins, ceramics, fine crystal, older, vinyl miniblinds and older playsets and playgrounds.
If your home was built before 1978 and you want to find out if it contains lead paint, you need to test for lead. Many hardware stores have do-it-yourself tests that can detect high levels of lead. But in order to detect lower levels or the lead paint that might be under superficial, newer coats of paint, you’ll need to have your house tested by an EPA-certified lab. The National Lead Information Center can provide you a list of labs to which you can send paint chips from cracks.
If lead paint is found in your home, a lead abatement specialist must safely remove any lead paint. To find a local specialist, contact HUD or the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Do not try removing the paint yourself. If possible, temporarily move out of your house while the paint is being removed.
According to Title X Housing Protection, you have the right as a homebuyer or renter to be notified of the presence of lead paint in a pre-1987 home. For more information, contact the NLIC or the EPA.
The CPSC announces all lead-containing toy recalls on their website.
You can’t smell, taste or see lead in your drinking water. In order to know whether or not lead is present in your water supply, you have to have it tested. Contact your local health department for additional information.
Many certified laboratories and local health departments can perform soil testing in order to detect if there is a lead problem. If high levels are found, removal and replacement of topsoil is recommended. Additionally, covering soil with mulch or planting grass can keep your family from tracking the soil indoors or breathing soil dust.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following recommendations to protect your family from lead exposure.
- Regularly wash children’s hands and toys.
- Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components.
- Avoid using containers, cookware or tableware to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead free.
- Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking and for making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead.
- Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stain glass work, bullet making, or using a firing range.
- Avoid eating candies imported from Mexico because lead has been found in some candies and in the wrappers of some imported candies.