Lead dust is a metallic element that is commonly found in the environment. It was used in house paint until 1978, when it was banned. Lead was also used in gasoline at one time, but has since been removed. Water is also a potential source of lead. This is usually from lead in solder, fixtures and piping in the home. Interestingly, there is no lead in a “lead” pencil.
Young children, particularly up to 6 years old, are especially at risk of ingesting lead-contaminated dust or paint chips. Research has found that small amounts of lead dust, consumed regularly, can cause delayed development, reading and learning problems, lowered IQ, hyperactivity and discipline problems. Larger amounts can cause high blood problems, anemia, kidney, and reproductive disorders in both kids and adults. Lead accumulates in the body and its effects are irreversible.
If you live in a home built before 1978, your children may be at risk. All children up to age 6 should be tested for lead in their blood. Ask you local public health department about lead testing programs for children.
There are an estimated 57 million homes in the U.S. that have at least some lead paint. Older homes are at greater risk. Prior to 1950, paint contained as much as 50 percent lead paint. Paint in good condition poses little risk. However, paint that is peeling or on deteriorating surfaces is especially hazardous. Dust created from remodeling an older home can also be a source of lead.
Do-it-yourself test kits are available at home improvement centers, paint stores and ceramic supply stores. Their sensitivity can be limited. For more accurate information, contact a professional detection service.
The simplest way to control exposure to lead is through frequent damp mopping to control dust. Pick up loose paint chips with duct tape. Vacuuming can scatter dust particles back into a room. Frequent washing of your child’s hands and toys will also reduce lead dust exposure. It is important not to expose young children to sanding or scraped leaded paint or to any other activities that generate dust.
Eliminating lead dust hazards is complex and should only be done by professionals. Measures include replacing windows and moldings, paint removal and covering surfaces with materials including wallboard. Children should not be present until the site “clears” inspection.
Resource: Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes, EPA 402-K-98-002, June 2003.