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Exposure to Lead

Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. Lead from paint chips and dust can pose serious health hazards. Lead-contaminated paint is not a hazard if it is contained under other coats of paint that are intact and undisturbed. It is only when lead-contaminated paint deteriorates, releasing chips and contaminating surface dust and soil, that it becomes a significant hazard.

Who is at Risk?

Children are particularly at risk of lead exposure because their mental and physical development occurs rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead-contaminated dust or soil, into their mouths. Children living in or spending significant time in homes or buildings built before 1978 may be at higher risk of exposure.

Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breathe lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass or soldering, can increase exposure. Ingestion of certain folk remedies, which can contain lead, should be avoided. A pregnant woman's exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

Children and Lead Exposure

Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends public health action be initiated when blood lead levels are above 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL).

The adverse effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected once they occur, but there are treatments to remove lead from the body before it causes harm. The goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed.

How are Children Exposed to Lead?

Lead in dust and soil particles in the environment are invisible to the naked eye and have no smell. Children may be exposed to lead from sources such as paint, certain hobbies, and consumer products, and through pathways such as air, food, water, dust, and soil.

Lead-contaminated paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most hazardous sources of lead for children. Leaded paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-contaminated paint. However, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem.

What are the Health Effects of Lead in Children?

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

• Behavior and learning problems
• Lower IQ and hyperactivity
• Slowed growth

Higher levels can result in hearing problems; anemia; and in rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

What Should You Do if You Think Your Child has been in Contact with Lead?

A blood lead test is the only way to determine if your child has a high lead level. The test will only provide information about recent exposures.

Speak to your pediatrician for concerns regarding possible past lead exposure.

Protect Your Family from Lead Exposure

Installations must inform all new tenants of family housing what is known about lead-based paint and lead hazards in their units. Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home (linked below) must be provided as part of the information packet.

Installations and contractors must also provide information to the present tenants of housing units where renovations may disturb lead-based paint. Please see Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools for more information in the additional resources section.

Reduce the Risk

  • Be aware of the information on potential lead hazards that was given to you when moving in.
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or painted surfaces they could chew.
  • Quickly report peeling paint and water damage to housing maintenance.
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free, particularly around painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas frequently with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust.
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
  • Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with diets rich in calcium and iron will absorb less lead.
  • Take off shoes when entering the house to prevent bringing lead-contaminated soil in from outside.
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil. If possible, provide them with sandboxes.

For additional information, contact your local medical treatment facility preventive medicine department or the Directorate of Public Works environmental division.

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