Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States." There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead: through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body when an individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it has settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.
Old lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. today. Harmful exposures to lead can be created when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning. High concentrations of airborne lead particles in homes can also result from lead dust from outdoor sources, including contaminated soil tracked inside, and use of lead in certain indoor activities such as soldering and stained-glass making.
Where does one find lead? It’s in lead-based paint, contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water. In drinking water, I mean really. That is why everyone should filter their water. City water is polluted.
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development.
The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.
Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead
- Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
- Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
- Do not remove lead paint yourself.
- Do not bring lead dust into the home.
- If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
- Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.
Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs with either a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime.
Reduce the risk from lead-based paint.
Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Do not burn painted wood since it may contain lead.