Your home should be a place of comfort, but if it’s of older construction or contains older items, it can also be a poisoning hazard. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 24 million American homes contain elevated levels of lead contamination. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

The History of Lead Materials in America

Decades ago, studies discovered the health effects of lead, and this inspired some US cities to pass lead paint regulations in the 1950s. A national mandate was passed in 1971, followed by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 1978 regulation (12 C.F.R. 1303), which banned lead paint and certain lead-painted products (like toys and furniture) from all residential homes. Because of this, many Americans believe that the danger of lead poisoning in homes has been eradicated, but, unfortunately, that’s not true. People living in older homes or those with older systems, furniture, or other items may still be in danger.

The Health Effects of Lead Poisoning

Children under the age of six are most at risk of lead poisoning because their bodies absorb lead at a higher rate, and they are more likely to stick items containing lead residue in their mouths. Lead poisoning is especially unhealthy to children because their brain and nervous system are sensitive. The CDC reports that 535,000 American children under the age of five have high levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to brain damage, behavioral and learning problems, hearing and speech problems, headaches, slowed growth, and poor muscle coordination.

Long-term exposure to lead can cause health issues in adults too, like high blood pressure, muscle and joint pain, fertility issues, and memory and concentration problems. Lead can be dangerous for pregnant women and unborn babies, causing low birth weight and brain and nerve damage. And pets can also experience symptoms of lead poisoning, like diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and blindness.

To protect your loved ones, it’s important to take a second look at the items you have in your home. Listed below are common features of your home that may contain lead, as well as tips for preventing lead poisoning.

Common Sources of Lead in the Home:

  • Paint. The older your home is, the more likely it may contain highly concentrated lead paint (especially if your home was built during or before the 1950s). As paint ages, it can peel, chip, or crack, and the flakes can accidentally be ingested. If lead paint is scraped, sanded, or heated, the dust can be inhaled or settle on objects that you may come in contact with, which is unsafe.

  • Old furniture. Furniture manufactured today is less likely to have lead paint due to the 1978 regulation, which covered items such as bookcases, chests, dressers, tables, and chairs. But, many American households have treasured family heirlooms that may have been painted with lead paint. If the paint cracks, it can be dangerous.

  • Old toys. Much like furniture, toys can also be passed down from generation to generation. The 1978 regulation means that toys, too, are now made with lead-free paint. But households that have older toys should be wary, especially if young kids put these toys in their mouths.

  • Soil. Lead naturally occurs in soil, but when paint chips or dust from the exterior of your home is absorbed by the soil, the concentration levels may rise. This may be caused by renovations or by pressure washing the exterior of your home. Growing your own food, letting your kids play in the soil, or tracking soil into your home with your shoes can be hazardous as well.

  • Pipes. Older homes may also have pipes that contain lead. If there is lead in your water pipes, it can affect your water and cause health complications. And while boiling your water may seem like a solution, studies show that it will not help prevent lead poisoning.

Lead Poisoning Protection Tips:

  1. Call a professional. If you suspect that your home has lead paint, call a professional to inspect your home for lead dust. They typically inspect painted surfaces on the inside and outside of the home like baseboards, windows, chimneys, and fences. They may also do a risk assessment of the bare soil around your home.

  2. Get a medical checkup. If you suspect that your family has been exposed to lead, it’s important to get them tested immediately by a healthcare provider. Don’t forget to get your pets tested as well.

  3. Use a filter. If you suspect that your water pipes contain lead, consider installing a filter. Some experts suggest using a NSF-approved filter in order to ensure that your tap water is lead free. The CDC also suggests using cold water when possible, as hot water is likely to have more lead.

  4. Maintain your yard. If you find that your soil has high levels of lead, it’s important that you keep the soil covered. The CDC suggests covering bare soil with grass, mulch, or wood chips.

  5. Be careful during your renovations. If you decide that you want to renovate your home in order to get rid of the lead paint, be careful. Removing the paint can create more lead residue in and around your home. Be sure to hire a professional who is well versed in safely removing lead. For further help with your project, consider contacting a Best Pick contractor.

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Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; EPA; Mother Jones; National Center for Healthy Housing; PetMD; US Consumer Product Safety Commission; US Department of Housing and Urban Development; WebMD.

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