How to reduce lead risks around your home

Carbon monoxide, radon gas and toxic mold aren’t the only hidden hazards that homeowners need to fear. There’s also the danger of exposure to a particularly harmful heavy metal – and not of the eardrum-splitting variety. The culprit is lead, and the threat is more pervasive and common than many people realize, especially in older homes, say the experts.

Lead can be found in many forms throughout the home: in paint, toys, dinnerware, dust that you track in from the outside with your shoes, and even your soil, which can pick up lead from exterior paint and past use of leaded car gasoline, says Gregg Steiner, president of Green Life Guru in Santa Monica, Calif.

Additionally, your older home may have plumbing with lead or lead solder that can leach the metal into your drinking water, and foods or liquids stored within lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain containers can likewise be contaminated, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the biggest sources of lead contamination is old paint. Many residences built prior to 1978 used lead-based paint, stain, varnish and shellac, which was nationally banned by the Consumer Products Safety Commission that year, says Lee Wasserman, president of LEW Corp., an environmental service provider in Mountainside, NJ.

“Hazards around these older homes include all painted surfaces that are cracking, chipping, flaking, peeling and chalking, and all friction and impact surfaces that have not been proven to be non-leaded,” Wasserman said. “The risk of lead poisoning is greater the older the home is. However all homes are potentially suspect to leaded products entering their environments.”

Lead is harmful to all humans, but especially children, who absorb more of it through their digestive tracts – between 30 to 75 percent, while adults absorb approximately 11 percent, says Debbie Lindgren, co-founder of Bluedominoes, Inc., a company dedicated to helping parents discover how environmental and dietary factors influence children’s health, behavior and learning.

Lindgren says that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, lead exposure can cause significant neurodevelopmental effects, including weakness in attention, aggression, headaches, vomiting, nausea, constipation, antisocial/delinquent behaviors, hearing problems, poor hand-eye coordination, sleep disturbances, slowed growth, seizures and more.

The EPA reports that lead is ingested into the body when we put our hands or other objects covered with lead dust into our mouths, when children eat paint chips or soil that contains lead, or when we breathe in lead dust, particularly during remodeling projects that disturb painted surfaces.

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