Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s outer layer. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint. Many homes were painted with lead-based paint before 1978; that year the federal government banned its use because it was found to be a highly toxic metal.
Lead paint is most dangerous when it is deteriorating (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, etc) because it creates lead dust. Lead poisoning is very common because lead paint is still present in millions of homes today, sometimes under layers of newer paint. Even low levels of lead in the blood can have an irreversible toxic effect. Lead dust can form in the household, even in well-maintained homes. It can come from old lead-based paint on surfaces that are constantly in motion or get a lot of wear-and-tear (such as doors and door frames; windows and window sills; stairs, railings, banisters, and porches), lead-contaminated soil brought in from the outdoors, or even from lead dust on clothing worn at a job site.
Other ways you can be exposed to lead dust in the household are during home repair activities when lead-based paint is scraped, sanded or heated, or by spending time in areas during renovation or repair work that disturbs deteriorating painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Lead paint chips and dust (interior and exterior) also can settle on the ground and other surfaces and objects that people touch, which in turn seeps into the bloodstream more than likely causing a variety of health problems. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when the home is vacuumed or swept, or people walk through it.
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. It is considered to be a neurotoxin, which means it attacks the brain. Even small amounts can cause harm to the brain, other parts of the nervous system, and other vital organs. If an adult ingests even a trace of lead they will experience symptoms such as irritability, depression, headaches, insomnia, and memory loss. Adults exposed to lead also can suffer from cardiovascular effects like increased blood pressure and occurrences of hypertension; decreased kidney function; and reproductive problems (in both men and women).Adult symptoms can also be very similar to those experienced by children with exposure to lead. Lead poisoning can lower a child’s IQ and the ability to pay attention in the classroom and at home. Other symptoms children experience are abdominal pain, fatigue, hearing loss and anemia. In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.Taking simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future. Other simple steps include:
- Inspecting and maintaining all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
- Cleaning around painted areas where dust is likely to be generated such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge, cloth, rag or paper towel to remove paint chips or dust.
- Treating any lead paint–covered surfaces, especially if you have children living in your home or visiting frequently.
- Washing children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
- Teaching children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
- Ensuring that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
- Making sure your contractor is Lead-Safe Certified and that they follow lead-safe work practices if you are having home renovation, repairs, or painting done.