Lead in Your Home and Your Health

Overview

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LEAD IS ALL AROUND US


Lead is so common because it has been such a useful metal in many ways -- easy to work with simple tools, handy, and cheap.

Lead is also very dangerous.

WHY IS LEAD DANGEROUS?

Lead in the body is dangerous because it interferes with normal body functions. It can change the way the blood-forming cells work, alter the way nerve cells signal each other, and lead can disturb or destroy the way the brain makes connections for thinking.

WHO IS THREATENED BY LEAD?

Workers exposed to high levels of lead are in danger. They need to be very careful to protect themselves from lead fumes and dust.

Infants, children, and pregnant women, because of their unborn child, are threatened by even small amounts of lead in their environment.

Because children are still developing, the potential damage to their development from lead exposure is very important to their future health and well-being.

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WHAT IS LEAD POISONING?

Too much lead in the body can seriously injure the brain, nervous system, red blood cells, and the kidneys.

Higher levels of lead in the body can cause mental retardation, fits (convulsions), falling out (unconsciousness, coma), and even death. In years past, that kind of effect was called lead poisoning. Exposures high enough to cause coma and death are very uncommon today, but they haven't disappeared.

WHAT IS LEAD TOXICITY?

Low levels of lead in the body when a child's brain is developing can slow the child's development and cause learning and behavior problems.

Lead-exposed children may not be as quick at their studies or as good at hitting a baseball or dribbling a basketball as children without the lead exposures.

WHERE'S THE RISK?

Though lead paint stopped being used on most houses in the mid-1970s, many older homes still have surfaces once painted with lead paint. Young children eat, chew, and suck on lead-painted surfaces they can reach, like window sills and railings. The little ones will put jewelry and printed matter that may have lead in their mouths.

Dirt and dust sometimes have lead in them, as do the fumes and dust stirred up during home renovation and while sandblasting lead-painted buildings and bridges.

Older homes and especially deteriorating and poorly kept older homes can be a threat for children. Particular jobs, like welding, radiator repair, making lead batteries, and demolition work can be especially hazardous to workers.

HOW DOES RISK BECOME THREAT?

Lead accumulates in our environment. As we keep using more lead, there will be more lead in the environment.

Lead accumulates in our bodies, and especially in children's bodies. Exposure to small amounts of lead over time can mean a long-term accumulation of lead in a child, raising the child's risk of bad health effects.

Pregnant women who have lead stored in their bones may release some of that bone lead into their K blood, where it can reach the womb and fetus during pregnancy. That kind of transfer potential makes us think about lead exposures in today's children and what that may mean for their children.


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WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MY CHILD AND FAMILY?

The Federal Government has undertaken a broad range of education and prevention efforts. The Centers for Disease Control is one of the leaders in the community public health effort; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is doing much of the needed research to make the public health effort work.  The purpose of all these efforts is to reduce the number of people injured by lead.

Know what and where the lead is in your environment.

Ask your community health department about lead in your tapwater for drinking and cooking. If the health department thinks there's reason to be concerned, have your water tested.

Meanwhile, if your house is fairly new but was built before 1986, before the ban on lead solder for water pipes, flush the water lines by opening the spigot for a minute or two before drawing water for morning coffee or cooking or drinking.

If your house is more than 15 years old, it may have once had lead-based paint on it. Ask your community health department how to test the surfaces a child can reach to see if there's lead in paint there. Seal sound surfaces with fresh paint.

cleaning If you need to repair or remove lead-painted surfaces, get a professional who is trained to do the work safely. Keep your child away from the area during the work and if you're pregnant, stay away, too. Your Child's DoctorThe area should be wet mopped by the removal workers often during the job. Check with your local health department for information on how to have the leaded paint removed safely.

If you have any doubts about your child's possible exposure to lead, see the doctor and ask whether your child should be tested.

Your child's doctor knows how to get the test done and the doctor can tell you what you need to do, if anything, when the test comes back.

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This page was updated on 30-Mar-2016