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Last Updated: August 19, 2021

Why Do You Need to Be Concerned About Lead?

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead also can be emitted into the air from industrial sources and leaded aviation gasoline, and lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk.

Most Common Sources of Lead Poisoning:

  • Deteriorating lead-based paint
  • Lead contaminated dust
  • Lead contaminated residential soil

Health Effects of Lead:

  • Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the United States.

People can get lead in their body if they:

  • Put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths
  • Eat paint chips or soil that contains lead
  • Breathe in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces

Lead is more dangerous to children because:

  • Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.
  • Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead.
  • Children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Behavior and learning problems, such as hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:

  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
  • High blood pressure and hypertension
  • Nerve disorders
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain

Where lead is found:

In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from being manufactured or sold in 1978. Some states stopped its use even earlier. Lead can be found:

  • In homes in the city, country, or suburbs
  • In apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing
  • Inside and outside of the house
  • In soil around a home. Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint, or other sources such as past use of leaded gas in cars, and children playing in yards can ingest or inhale lead dust.
  • Household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil tracked into a home
  • Drinking water. Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:  use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
  • The workplace. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes.
  • Old painted toys and furniture.
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain. Food can become contaminated because lead can leach in from these containers.
  • Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air
  • Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture
  • Folk remedies that contain lead, such as “greta” and “azarcon” used to treat an upset stomach.
  • Where lead is likely to be a hazard:
    Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can’t always see, can be serious hazards.

Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.

Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
Windows and window sills.
Doors and door frames.
Stairs, railings, and banisters.
Porches and fences.
Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard.

Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.

Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes. Contact the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) to find out about testing soil for lead.

What you can do to protect your family:

Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems — someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government.
Contact the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) for help with locating certified contractors and inspectors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available.

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