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A Quick Guide to Lead Exposure Hazards Indoors: this article explains simple steps to reduce the hazard of lead exposure in homes. Our page top photo shows lead paint in poor condition on painted wood trim in a home. Paint in this condition is a particular hazard to children but it is also dangerous to home remodelers who may remove or strip lead paint if proper precautions are not taken. See LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE for our full list of environmental hazard identification and remedy related to lead in or on buildings.
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This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. As reported in Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:
Lead: the No. 1 Environmental Threat to Children: In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human services called lead “the number-one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.” The leading source of lead exposure today is old lead-based paint in homes built before 1960, although homes built until 1978 may also contain lead paint.
Other sources include contaminated soil and drinking water that runs through old lead piping. Hobby activities, such as soldering and stained- glass making, can also introduce lead into the home.
Where two painted surfaces abrade, such as door and window frames, lead dust can be released and later ingested by children. High-level exposures leading to acute illness can be created when lead-based paint is removed by sanding, scraping, or open-flame burning.
The soil around old houses can also contain high levels of lead from paint scrapings over the years, and the soil around highways can have high levels from leaded gasoline. Playing in contaminated soil can be a threat to children, and contaminated soil can also be tracked into homes, contributing significantly to indoor levels.
Health Effects of Lead Exposure
Our photo (left) shows an antique food serving platter that contains high levels of lead. At LEAD TEST KIT for HOME USE we discuss how an item like this can be tested for lead at low cost. Best Practices continues:
Lead affects most systems of the body. Even at low levels, harm to fetuses and young children can be significant. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development, leading to lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems.
Lead is more easily absorbed into the bodies of fetuses, infants, and children, and they are more sensitive to the damaging effects. Also, children often have higher exposures, since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.
Acute exposures to high levels of lead generated from remodeling activities can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. At very high levels (above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood), lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death.
Guide to Reducing Exposure to Lead Hazards Indoors and in Drinking Water
Our photo (left) shows the characteristic "wipe joint" that can help identify lead water supply piping at a building. See LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS for details about this significant source of lead levels found in some people.
Continuing from from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:
Lead Paint On Buildings
Since lead paint is the leading cause of exposure, preventive measures focus on keeping paint in good condition and cleaning up any lead- containing dust before children are exposed.
In older homes with lead paint, experts recommend mopping floors and wiping window ledges and other smooth flat areas with damp cloths frequently, keeping children away from areas where paint is chipped, peeling, or chalking and preventing children from chewing on window sills and other painted areas.
Also, ensure that toys are cleaned frequently and hands are washed before meals. If the paint is in poor condition, it should be removed by a licensed lead- abatement professional. Recommendations include:
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
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