Lead poisoning is a serious concern for children, and the younger the child, the lower the dose of exposure that will cause physical and behavioral problems. Even small amounts of lead exposure are cause for concern. Health care providers routinely screen children for elevated blood lead levels at age 1 and 2. You can also play a part in identifying and preventing potential lead concerns in your child’s environment. Here are some of the most common places lead is found in the home.
Many homes built before 1978 have paint that contains high levels of lead. Lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition and is not on an impact or friction surface such as a window or a door. However, if the surface is deteriorating (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, or otherwise exposed) and ingested (even in minute amounts)– especially by babies and young children -- it can be a health hazard.
Pipes and Fixtures
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes and fixtures. Corroded pipes or fixtures can cause lead to seep into the drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now put rules in place to reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures. The EPA also requires corrosion control treatment in major water systems to prevent lead and copper from contaminating drinking water.
Each year by July 1st you should receive a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), also known as an annual drinking water quality report from your water supplier. Your CCR tells you where your water comes from and what's in it. If you’re concerned about lead in your water, the EPA recommends sending samples to a certified laboratory for analysis. To get local contact information for testing your water, call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
Since lead is a naturally-occurring element, it can also be found in high concentrations outdoors. Soil in yards and playgrounds can be contaminated from contact with leaded gasoline found in cars or other industrial sources. The ground can also be contaminated if outdoor lead-based paint from older houses or buildings flake or peel off and get into the dirt. Young children can be exposed to the lead if they put their hands in their mouth when playing outside.
Lead can also be found in many products such as painted toys, furniture and toy jewelry, cosmetics, food and liquid containers. Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information on lead in consumer products and a list of lead-related product recalls.
Safe practices at home
To avoid lead exposure, especially in older built homes:
- Talk with your child's pediatrician about recommended screening for lead, and any concerns you have about lead in your home or environment. Your local health department, or a non-profit in your area, may have a lead abatement program that can help.
- Contact a lead abatement contractor to confirm the presence of lead and permanently eliminate the problem.
- Check the exterior of your home, including porches and fences, for flaking or deteriorating lead-based paint that may contaminate soil in your yard or be tracked into your house. Repair damaged paint surfaces will temporarily reduce lead hazard.
- Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces every week. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead.
- Keep children from chewing window sills or other painted surfaces.
- Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead or other contaminants.
- Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals that are high in iron and calcium. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
- Planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels is another temporary fix.
- If renovations are underway, relocate your family (especially children and pregnant women) until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If that is not possible, seal off the work area.
Additional information about safe practices when painting or renovating an older home is available in a detailed guide from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the EPA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).