Lead from different sources such as from lead-based paint, gasoline, and solder may enter the body through air, food, water, dust, and soil. Lead poisoning is a threat, especially to young children. For preschool children the most widespread and dangerous high-dose source of lead exposure is lead-based paint. Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s lead-based paint was in widespread use. It continued to be used in lower concentrations until the mid-1970’s. The manufacture of paint containing high concentrations of lead for interior and exterior residential surfaces, toys, and furniture was banned in 1978 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Lead-based paint, however, is still available for industrial, military and marine use and occasionally ends up being used in homes.
Paint with high lead content is estimated to be in 74 percent of all housing built before 1980. Those housing units containing deteriorating lead-based paint are the major concern. Of even greater concern is these homes that have young children as occupants. When lead-based paint on surfaces is broken, sanded, or scraped, it breaks into tiny, sometimes invisible, pieces that children may swallow or inhale.
Pica, a craving for unnatural food, is one way young children are exposed to lead when they eat tiny pieces of peeling or chipping lead-based paint. A child does not have to eat paint chips, however, to become poisoned. More commonly, children ingest dust and soil contaminated with lead from paint that flakes or chalks as it ages. Lead dust can settle on floors, walls, and furniture. Settled lead dust can reenter the air through cleaning, such as vacuuming or sweeping, or by movement of people throughout the house. Lead-contaminated house dust, ingested via normal repetitive hand-to-mouth activity, is now recognized as a major contributor to lead poisoning in children. Adults can also be exposed to lead in the same ways.
The risk of lead poisoning is related to both the presence and the condition of the paint. Lead-based paint is typically found on kitchen and bathroom walls. Pre-1950 homes may have lead-based paint throughout on doors, windows, and wooden trim. The risks of lead poisoning are greater when lead-based paint has deteriorated or when lead-based paint (even intact paint) is located on surfaces accessible to children. Lead-based paint on interior and exterior windows is particularly of concern because it is abraded into dust by the repeated opening and closing of the windows.
Childhood lead poisoning can result from renovation or remodeling of homes when lead dust is generated by sanding, scraping or heating lead-based paint. Before older homes undergo any renovation that may generate dust, they should be tested for the presence of lead-based paint. If such paint is found, contractors experienced in working with lead-based paint should do the renovation. Lead-based paint in good condition is not usually a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust. Children or pregnant women should not be present on property that is being renovated or remodeled.
Occupations and Hobbies
Possible Sources of Lead
A variety of work and hobby environments expose people to lead and may result in lead exposures to the family. You may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes. Precautions are needed if you work in construction, demolition or painting; with batteries; in a radiator repair shop or lead factory; or if your occupation or hobby involves furniture refinishing or making leaded stained glass. Other activities that may be associated with lead exposure include home repairs and remodeling, and making pottery. Lead can also be brought into the house from outside soil. Other places to be aware of lead exposure include: clothes from anybody who works with lead or lead paint, tap water from lead soldered pipes, drapery and window weights, fishing sinkers, some folk medicines and some imported pottery.
Ways to Reduce Lead Exposure in the Home
- Always have children wash their hands before meals, snacks, nap time and bedtime.
- Keep children away from chipping, peeling and flaking paint.
- Keep the areas where children play as dust-free as possible.
- Do not allow children to chew or suck on painted surfaces such as painted window sills, cribs, playpens, or old painted toys.
- Provide clean pacifiers for infants to suck.
- Wash pacifiers often and pin them on a short ribbon to the child’s shirt.
- Keep children’s clothes clean by changing frequently.
- Inside, place a clean blanket on the floor or carpet for babies to play on. (Always keep the same side up and wash often).
- Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly.
Cleaning Procedures to Reduce Lead Dust in Your House
- Because ordinary vacuuming or sweeping spreads lead dust, always clean up dust and paint chips with wet mops or rags. Sponge mops work better than rag or string mops. When sweeping, drag dust with a damp broom.
- Clean surfaces such as window sills and wells by wiping with a wet rag wrung from a warm water solution containing 1/4 cup of a high phosphate cleaner (such as trisodium phosphate, (check label for at least 6 percent phosphate content) available through hardware or paint stores) or an automatic dishwasher detergent with phosphate content above 6 percent (such as AllÆ, CascadeÆ, ElectrasolÆ and SunlightÆ) to one gallon water.To avoid possible skin irritation, wear rubber gloves. Multipurpose cleaners do not contain phosphates and are not effective in cleaning lead dust. Wash mops thoroughly after each use to prevent recontamination of cleaned surfaces. Do this twice a week. Dispose of rags after use.
- If wooden window frames are badly chipping, keep the bottom half closed and open the top half for fresh air.
- Throw out old, soiled carpets or cover with a clean area rug (machine washable are best).
- If you work with lead, wash work clothes separately from family wash.
Leave Lead Outside
- Shake rugs, pillows, blankets and change vacuum bags outdoors away from the entry (not indoors).
- If you work with lead, leave it at work. Shower, wash hair and change clothes and shoes before returning home. If laundering clothes at home, do separately.
- Use an outdoor mat to wipe shoes or feet before entering the house. Thoroughly clean or replace mat twice a year. Take off your shoes at the door.
- Pets may be carriers of lead dust. Brush outside when possible.
- Wherever there is loose or flaking lead-based paint, do not attempt to remove it yourself, except to damp mop it off the floor. Call your local health department for lead paint removal advice.
Testing for Lead
With homes built in the 1950’s or earlier, it is reasonable to assume that the house has lead paint. Therefore, it may be cheaper to perform any renovation work under the assumption that lead paint is present than to test for it in advance. Contact your local public health organization for information on lead inspection services and testing laboratories in your area. To receive a list of certified laboratories, call the National Lead Information Center Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD.
Paint Chip Testing
Paint can be tested for the presence of lead by sending paint chips to a certified lab for wet chemical analysis. Try to take your samples from peeling and chipping areas. Avoid surfaces that have intact paint. Paint chips can be sent to the Ohio Department of Health Lab in Columbus. There is a charge of $20 per sample as of 1/94. Each sample should include approximately a tablespoon of paint chips, be individually packaged in a plastic bag or envelope and labeled as to location in the home and name and address of person to receive results. Several samples can be sent together with a request for analysis for lead content. Send the samples to: Ohio Department of Health Laboratories P.O. Box 5268 Columbus, OH 43216 ATTN.: Environmental Chemistry.
Lead in Household Dust
The recommended sampling method for dust is the surface wet wipe. Dust samples are collected from different surfaces, such as window sills, window wells and bare floors. Each sample is collected from a measured surface area using a wet wipe, which is sent to a laboratory for testing.
A professional testing company can come into your home and use portable x-ray fluorescence that analyzes several layers of paint and provides immediate results. Because the testing device is a complex piece of equipment, for reliable results, it must be operated by trained technicians. Home test kits are available at local hardware stores, but may not give accurate results.