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Lead is a metallic element that is widely dispersed in the environment.
- It was used in house paint until 1978, when it was banned.
- It was also widely used in gasoline, but has since been removed.
- In urban area, soils may be contaminated from the long-term use of leaded gas.
- Water is a potential source of lead. This is usually from lead in solder, fixtures and piping in the home.
Young children (up to about six years old) are especially at risk of ingesting lead from dust or paint chips. Small amounts of lead dust can cause delayed development, reading and learning problems, lowered IQ, hyperactivity and discipline problems. Larger doses can cause high blood pressure, anemia, and kidney and reproductive disorders in both kids and adults. Lead accumulates in the body and its effects are irreversible.
An estimated 57 million U.S. homes have at least some lead paint. Older homes are at greater risk. Prior to 1950, paint contained as much as 50 percent lead. Paint in good condition poses little risk. Paint that is peeling or on a deteriorating surface is especially risky. Dust created from remodeling an older home can also be a source of lead.
Do-it-yourself test kits are available at home centers, paint stores and ceramic supply stores. Their sensitivity is limited, though. Also, it may be difficult to get accurate readings on surfaces with multiple levels of paint. For more accurate information, have a professional detection service conduct a lead-based paint risk assessment.
If lead is detected in your home, there are simple measures you can follow to minimize exposure. The simplest way to control exposure to lead is through frequent damp mopping to control dust. (Vacuuming can disperse dust particles back into the room.)
- Pick up loose paint chips with duct tape.
- Frequent washing of your child’s hands and toys will also reduce exposure.
- It is important not to sand or scrape leaded paint, or do any other activities that generate dust.
Eliminating lead dust hazards is complex and should only be done by a professional. During renovations such as replacing windows and moldings, and paint removal, children should not be present at the work site until the site “clears” inspection.