blog: Lead poisoning at home |

blog: Lead poisoning at home

Pallavi Mukerjee
Vail CO, Colorado

In the last blog we read about how some household hazardous materials can be dangerous to our health and safety. In this blog, we will look at the sources of lead in and around the house, and discuss the health effects of lead exposure.

What is Lead?

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can be found in many products in our home and work environments. Before 1978, lead was used in materials to build homes such as paint and pipelines. Since it was so commonly used, much of the water, soil, and air in our environment also contained lead particles. Since then, numerous studies have proven that lead exposure causes a range of serious health effects, especially in children.

Where is lead found?

Inside our house, lead is commonly found in lead paint. Lead paint was banned in 1978; however, many houses still contain some traces of the above. When lead paint is in good condition it is not a hazard. When it deteriorates, it contaminates household dust as well as the bare soil around the house, where children may play. A child who comes into contact with lead contaminated dust or soil is easily poisoned by hand to mouth activity.

Children and adults can get seriously poisoned when renovation and remodeling activities take place in a home that contains lead paint. The lead created by emissions (before the ban of leaded gasoline) still presents a hazard, as much of the lead remains in soil where it was deposited over the years, near well traveled road and highways. Children who play with lead contaminated dirt can end up with lead contaminated soil under their fingernails or on their toys, and can track it into their homes.

Drinking water can also contribute to lead exposure. Lead can leach into drinking water from certain types of plumbing materials (lead pipes, copper pipes with lead solder, and brass faucets). Formula fed infants are at a special risk of lead poisoning, if their formula is made with contaminated water.

Perfumed candles with lead wicks also contribute to lead exposure at home. Some toys and candies also have lead in them. Lead exposure can also occur through pottery with lead based glazes.

What are the health effects of high levels of lead in the blood / (lead poisoning)?

Young children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead’s harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous system are still being formed. For them, even very low levels of exposure can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning.

In adults, lead can increase blood pressure and cause fertility problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, irritability, and memory or concentration problems. It takes a significantly greater level of exposure to lead for adults than it does for kids to sustain adverse health effects.

Most adults get exposed to lead through occupations such as house painting, welding, renovation, remodeling, smelters, firing ranges, the manufacture and disposal of car batteries, and the maintenance and repair of bridges and water towers. If workers leave these work sites with contaminated clothing, tools and facial hair or with unwashed hands, they can spread the lead to their family vehicles and ultimately to other family members. In a pregnant woman, the lead can be transferred to the fetus as lead crosses the placenta.

The following website of ‘Agency for toxic Substances and Disease Registry’ has an interesting fact sheet about lead and its effects. It is worth reading.

Next week, we will discuss how we can check our homes to see if it has lead based hazards, and what simple steps can we take to prevent or reduce exposure to lead..

Pallavi Mukerjee can be reached at

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