Lead is widely known as a toxic substance. It is a highly toxic metal that was widely used in construction until the 1970s. Unfortunately, lead does not always dissipate and can accumulate in the body over time. In children, high levels of lead can lead to:
- Nervous system/brain damage.
- Slowed growth.
- Behavioral/learning problems.
Unfortunately, awareness of the health-risks of lead only became widespread after lead was used in a wide variety of building materials. Lead exposure affects the nervous system, leading to a variety of health effects. Children six years old and younger are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning.
Though dangerous, lead poisoning is completely preventable.
Common sources of lead:
- Paint in homes and buildings constructed prior to 1978. In the past, paint in residential housing contained as much as 50% lead. There are still approximately 3 million tons of lead paint on housing units in the US from prior to the lead-paint ban.
- Lead contaminated soil and dust. Soil and dust can become contaminated from lead paint, leaded gasoline, and other industrial sources. Unfortunately, lead is not biodegradable, so it sits there neither dissipating nor decaying. The contamination will last forever unless dealt with properly.
- Drinking water. Lead contamination in water supplies is generally low. However, water systems installed prior to 1986 are much more likely to be contaminated than newer systems.
- Occupations and hobbies. Adults who work around lead may contaminate their households. Lead can contaminate clothing, hair, and even the body. Industries prone to lead exposure include smelting, battery manufacturing, certain incinerators, and others.
- Air. In the past, leaded gasoline was the leading contributor to airborne lead. As lead in gasoline was reduced, airborne lead levels fell tremendously. However, around industrial locations including: smelters, battery-manufacturing plants, certain incinerators, and areas where lead-paint is sandblasted.
- Food. Legislation in the 1980s lead to a tremendous decrease in the amount of lead in our food. Lead can enter our food supply through contaminated air or rain. Urban gardens may have a high lead content in the soil.
You can either:
- Purchase a do-it-yourself kit at a hardware store. The best do-it-yourself test would be a test for lead dust. These tests are inexpensive but they often cannot detect low levels of lead.
- Contact a laboratory to analyze samples for the presence of lead. The lab should be accredited by the EPA’s National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program.
- Hire a professional contractor for an assessment. They should be certified by the EPA.
Decrease Chances of Exposure:
- When preparing foods and drinks, use only cold water.
- Routinely clean the home to keep it dust free.
- Clean up any paint chips or visible dust.
- Flush water outlets, such as kitchens faucets or drinking faucets.
- Teach children to develop habits such as washing hands after playing outdoors and removing their shoes.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet. Lead interferes with calcium absorption in bones. A well-balanced diet will help combat that and children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
- Ensure that any building contractors are Lead Safe Certified.
Lead Abatement Options:
- Component replacement. This process simply involves removing lead painted materials and replacing them with uncontaminated material.
- Enclosure. This involves covering lead-contaminated surfaces with a rigid airtight covering. This solution should last for a minimum of 20 years.
- Encapsulation. Similar to enclosure, this process involves sealing lead-contaminated surfaces with a special coating, a flexible material that bonds to the lead. This is not a good option for deteriorating surfaces or surfaces prone to wear.
- Paint removal: The actual removal of lead paint is the only real long-term solution. No future maintenance and monitoring are needed as well. This process involves careful procedures and proper disposal.
Contact a qualified lead contractor for lead abatement. It is recommended that trained professionals perform these procedures.