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Protect your family from lead

Lead poisoning can cause a variety of health problems, especially in children. Protect your family with a few simple steps.

Lead is a highly toxic metal. If breathed or swallowed it can build up in a person's blood, bones, muscles and fat. Even a single, very high exposure to lead can cause lead poisoning, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In adults, high lead levels can increase the risk of:

  • Reproductive problems.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Nerve disorders.
  • Memory and concentration problems.
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Increased chance of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
  • Harm to a developing fetus.

Lead is even more dangerous to children than to adults, according to the EPA. That's because children's bodies are growing quickly and are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Even children who seem healthy can have harmful levels of lead in their bodies. This can cause such problems as:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system.
  • Behavior and learning problems (such as attention-deficit disorder).
  • Slowed growth.
  • Hearing problems.
  • Kidney damage.

In severe cases, lead can even cause seizures and death.

Likely sources

Here are some of the places lead can be found, according to the EPA:

Paint. Lead-based paint was banned from housing in 1978, but it's still present in many homes built before then.

Paint that contains lead is especially dangerous if it is:

  • Peeling, chipping or cracking.
  • On surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as windowsills, doors and door frames, stairs, railings, porches and fences.

Soil. Lead-based paint on the exterior of a home can shed into the soil. Other sources, such as past use of leaded gas in cars, can contaminate the soil as well. This soil can get tracked into the house on shoes.

Dust. Dust can collect lead from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil that is tracked into the home. Dust that has settled can float into the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.

Drinking water. Some residential plumbing contains lead, which can enter the water.

Jobs and hobbies. People who work with lead or use products that contain lead for hobbies such as pottery, stained glass or refinishing furniture can bring the substance home on their hands or clothes.

Safety steps

If you suspect that your home has high levels of lead, the EPA recommends getting your children and home tested.

A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead. Consult your child's doctor to find out more.

It's especially important to get your home tested if you're planning to remodel, if it is in poor condition or if it was built before 1978. For a list of qualified professionals in your area, check with the National Lead Information Center at 800.424.LEAD (800.424.5323) or go to epa.gov/lead/forms/lead-hotline-national-lead-information-center.

The EPA also recommends these safety steps:

  • Don't try to remove lead-based paint yourself.
  • If you rent, notify your landlord of any peeling or chipping paint.
  • Clean floors, window frames, windowsills and other surfaces weekly. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning.
  • Wash children's hands often, especially before they eat or go to bed.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing painted surfaces, such as windowsills.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Serve children nutritious foods that are high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
  • If you work with lead, shower and change clothes before going home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of the family's clothes.
  • If you're concerned about lead in your plumbing, call your local health department or water supplier and ask about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. For more information, call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800.426.4791.

Once and for all

To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead "abatement" contractor. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough. Always hire a person with special training in correcting lead problems.

Reviewed 12/21/2020

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