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Lead is a toxic metal that can be found in building materials and products in homes, offices, daycare facilities, toys, dishes and crystal, ceramics, stained wood, and other household products. Lead was added to paint and plumbing to increase durability. Lead can enter the drinking water from plumbing materials which contain it or contaminate food if it gets stored in containers that have lead in them.
Lead has been linked to adverse health conditions, most common in children under six years old, ranging from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Lead can affect almost every system of the body. High levels of lead in the blood will cause convulsions, coma or death, while low levels will slow down mental and physical development. Lead is easily absorbed by growing bodies and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
In 1978, a law was passed limiting the amount of lead added to paint and other materials. Homes built before 1978 may have lead based paint. If this paint is disturbed, such as during construction, or has started flaking and cracking, lead can form into dust and mix into the soil.
Soil is contaminated if levels of lead exceed:
- 400 Parts Per Million (PPM) in child play areas
- 1000 PPM in other common areas
Four Common Sources of Lead Poisoning:
- Deteriorating lead based paint
- Lead contaminated dust
- Lead contaminated soil
- Lead contaminated toys
Where Lead is Found:
- Paint in homes built before 1978. This includes windows and sills, doors, railing, banisters, as well as walls.
- Soil around the home, park, playground, etc. Lead can build up from gasoline and lead based paint chips mixing into the soil.
- Homes near freeways and busy streets may have lead contaminated soil due to buildup from exhaust fumes.
- Drinking Water – Pipes containing lead can contaminate water sources.
- Painted toys and furniture.
- Lead is also being found in newer toys, pet toys and clothing.
- Food or beverages kept in lead crystal or lead-glazed porcelain containers.
- Extremely high amounts of lead can be found in porcelain tile.
- Lead is found in stained woods.
- Lead from cracking paint builds up in dust, which then contaminates any surface the dust coats.
- Lead is often found in counterfit goods, especially in imported goods.
How to Protect Your Family:
- Clean flaking paint chips immediately.
- Clean dust from painted surfaces, walls and floors regularly.
- Clean dusty floors and remove soil tracked in immediately.
- Clean and repair damaged stained wood surfaces.
- Children who get the proper amount of iron and calcium will absorb less lead.
- Don’t store food or drinks in containers that contain lead, lead crystal or ceramics.
- Don’t burn painted wood.
- Don’t remove lead paint yourself, find a lead-safe certified contractor.
- Don’t disturb lead based paint.
Lead Hazards Found Inside The Home
Lead is commonly found in interior and exterior paint, but there are a number of other lead hazards that can be found in the average home. It’s common to find lead in lead based crystal glasses, but is also common in painted ceramic dishes, stained woods, ceramic tile in flooring and countertops. Lead is very common in antique and vintage items, including some we store our food in like butter dishes or pitchers. Lead can also be found in toys for both children and pets.
Children often play on the ground, put their fingers in their mouths and touch everything! If there is lead contaminated dust inside the home, it may contaminate the child’s toys. The child will be inhaling the lead dust on the floor or toys, and will be ingesting it when they place the toy or their hands into their mouth. The same goes for pet toys. My dogs toys are always on the ground, scattered throughout the house and collecting dust.
Soil particles from lead contaminated ground soil around the home will also get tracked in and mix with the dust, forming lead dust.
Dust in the home is contaminated with lead if the lead content exceeds: * 40 micrograms per square foot on floors * 250 micrograms per square foot on walls * 400 micrograms per square foot on exterior surfaces
Lead Based Paint: The Main Problem
Lead increases durability in paint, as well as adding vibrance to the colors, and can be found in homes built before 1978. Even though the walls have been painted over many times since, there is still lead based paint and it is still a problem if disturbed. Flaking or chipping paint and remodeling are two main concerns for homes with lead based paint. Flaking and chipping paint will mix into and contaminate the soil outdoors and may get tracked into the home. Flaking paint inside will emit lead particles into the air and will form into lead dust. Cutting or drilling into walls will easily put lead particles into the air which will coat and contaminate many things in the home.
Remember that lead based paint may be present at parks, playgrounds, schools, museums and other places children frequent. Parks & playgrounds with close proximity to freeways and major roads are at a higher risk of having lead contaminated soil.
Remember that imported goods may not be from a country that follows lead safety standards. Lead is commonly found in household goods, toys and other items which have been imported. I have a picture frame from Mexico that contains lead and is several times above the limit.
Lead Dust: The Main Source of Lead Poisoning
Lead dust is the most common source of lead poisoning and other health related effects of lead. Lead cannot be absorbed through the skin, so it has to get into the bloodstream in one of two ways. The first being ingested and the second being inhaled. Lead particles found in lead dust are small enough to make it past the filters in the nose and work their way down into the lungs. Lead dust can also very easily coat things such as toys, furniture, food, dishes, and many other surfaces found in the home. Once these surfaces are contaminated by lead dust, they pose a serious health risk to everyone inside the home, especially young children and pets.
Lead Hazards in The Kitchen
Lead can be found in the kitchen in a few places. The first, and most worrisome, is in the tap water. Lead based solder was used up until 1986, so even 1980s built homes are at risk for this. Lead gets absorbed into the drinking water when those pipes contain lead based solder. Water sitting overnight or for a few weeks while nobody is home is the most common source of contamination. It is a good idea to let the water run for a bit in the morning before drinking it to help get the contaminated water out of the pipes.
Lead is also commonly found in tile countertops and flooring. Chipping countertop tiles should be cleaned up immediately, preferably with a HEPA filtered vacuum. The tile needs to be removed or properly fixed (following lead safe work practices) and sealed so they are not exposed and will not continue to chip and allow lead particles into the air and dust. It is also a good idea to not place any food or meat directly onto tile countertops. It’s safe to assume lead may be in original tile floors or countertops in pre-1978 built homes, but lead may be found in newer ceramic tiles, or those imported from other countries.
Tile countertops and showers/tubs have the highest lead concentrations I have ever come across. Today I was lead testing a 1975 built home in Lake Arrowhead that had readings between 19-23 micrograms per square centimeter. This is more than a dozen times above the level determined by Riverside County to be a lead hazard. (Levels are determined by counties and generally vary between 0.5-1.0 micrograms per square centimeter in Southern California counties).
Readings this high are common in older ceramic tiles.
Lead Glazed Crystal and Painted Ceramics: Lead Safe Food Storage
Lead based crystal is commonly known to have lead, but fewer people know that lead is also fairly common in painted ceramics. Storing food in these lead based dishes and containers can also be a source of lead poisoning or elevated blood levels. Lead is added to crystal to help give it that colorful sparkle and rich ping when you go to make a toast. While drinking or eating from lead based crystal won’t kill you, it’s not advised to store food in those containers or leave a beverage in the glass overnight.
We have also found lead in a number of vintage food storage items such as butter dishes, cake pans, ceramics dishes, glass pitchers, plates and many other items. Lead is also found in food & candy wrappers, and many other unwanted places. It is becoming more common to read about it in the news.
Lead in Stained Woods
Stained wood can often contain lead in the stain. It is a safe idea to take precautions and utilizing Lead Safe Work Practices when sanding down and resurfacing wood floors, cabinets, paneling and other wood stained items. Keep cats and dogs from chewing on cabinet edges and wooden banisters. If there is a lead hazard in the stained wood, not only will the pet be ingesting it, but lead particles will become airborne and exposed, and potentially mix into lead dust.