What is lead and why should we be concerned about it?
Lead is a metal which is found in many areas of our environment. It is found in small amounts in the earth’s crust and has been used in manufacturing, fuel, paint, batteries, ammunition and other areas. It is toxic. In children, the most serious symptoms related to lead exposure are central nervous system problems, including decreased IQ and cognitive problems at lower levels and severe effects such as seizure and brain damage at higher levels. The toxicity of lead has been known for millennia, but the effects become more clearly understood in the mid-20th century, prompting federal regulations to remove it from paint, gasoline, plumbing and other environmental sources.
What are the sources of lead contamination?
Paint: Prior to 1978, paint contained lead. Lead paint offered advantages, including durability and brighter stable colors. But as the effects of lead became more clearly understood, the lead content of paint began to be reduced in the 1950’s and was eliminated in 1978.1 This move has been helpful in significantly reducing the number of children who are poisoned by lead. But any building which was built before 1978 still may be a source of lead exposure. Lead paint chips and dust may be present even when the home has been repainted or remodeled. The lead content of homes is typically highest around windows. Raising and lowering windows releases lead dust because of friction between surfaces. So children who live in or regularly visit homes built before the late 1970s are at risk for lead exposure. Currently, lead paint in older homes is the most significant source of exposure to lead.
How much Lead is Dangerous?
Even low levels of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, and high levels of exposure can lead to coma or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no safe blood lead level in children. Paint containing lead can deteriorate or chip, leaving traces of lead dust at dangerous levels. Think about a sugar packet. Picture it filled with lead dust instead. S[read that little packet equally through 100 10×10 rooms. That amount of lead dust in each room would still be two times higher that the federal hazard level.
What are the risks of environmental exposure to lead for our community?
Lead does not occur naturally in our bodies – if it is present it is because of environmental exposure. Children six years of age and under are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than older children and adults. In children under the age of six, the blood-brain barrier is not yet complete, so lead is permitted to enter the central nervous system quickly in young children when they are exposed. In addition, young children crawl, frequently put things in their mouths, and have higher respiratory rates than older children, all of which increase the risk of lead poisoning when exposed to it. Children who have iron deficiency are also more likely to absorb lead from the gastrointestinal tract.
Children poisoned by lead are at an increased risk for lower IQ’s, behavioral problems including a decreased attention span, and reduced educational attainment.6 The behavioral problems associated with lead exposure in children are similar to the symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Scientists are now studying other possible causes or risk factors for ADHD, including lead exposure during pregnancy or at a young age.
How to Reduce and Remove Lead Exposure
The State of Michigan Lead Safe Home Program recommends:
In housing built before 1978, it can be assumed that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
Take precautions to limit your child’s access to peeling paint or surfaces with known or assumed lead-based paint.
Children and pregnant women should take extra precautions during the renovation of housing built before 1978. Homeowners and contractors should be using lead safe work methods such as plastic barriers, HEPA equipped vacuums, plastic to catch paint dust and chips, and daily cleaning.
A Lead Safe cleaning guide is available at www.michigan.gov/leadsafe.
Regularly wash children’s hands, pacifiers and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil.
Regularly cleaning by wet-mopping floors and wet-wiping window sills and window wells every two to three weeks.
Take shoes off outside before entering the house helps to prevent bringing lead-contaminated soil in from outside.
Until soil is tested, prevent children from playing in bare soil. Plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips.
Until the bare soil is covered, locate play areas away from bare soil and the sides of the house.
Some other items can include lead coatings such as, pottery, cookware, or tableware that is often used to store or cook food. These items can be tested.
Check and remove recalled toys and toy jewelry
immediately from children.
Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead as is water that is heated.
Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stained glass or lead bullets.
Help children eat foods high in calcium and iron to keep lead from being absorbed by a child’s body.