Lead poisoning was among the first known and most widely studied illnesses related to environmental hazards.
Due to reductions of lead in products and the workplace, acute lead poisoning is rare in most countries today, but low level lead exposure is still common.
Lead is a highly poisonous metal (inhaled or swallowed), affecting almost every organ and system in the body. The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system, both in adults and children. Long-term exposure in adults can result in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system.
In the past, maintenance activities such as sanding, scraping, and welding were considered fairly non-hazardous and routine. It is now known that if lead is present on or in the surfaces being disturbed, persons performing the work, as well as occupants of the areas where the work is performed, may be exposed to lead. Lead is particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders.
In general, the older the home, the more likely lead paint was used on and in it. This is especially true for homes built prior to 1950, but lead-based paints were widely used up to the time they were banned for residential purposes in 1978. However, the presence of lead paint does not necessarily mean that it presents a hazard.
In adults, symptoms of lead poisoning include:
- Memory and concentration problems;
- Abdominal pain; and
- High blood pressure.
In children, these are some of the more common signs and symptoms, among others:
- Loss of appetite;
- Abdominal pain;
- Vomiting; and
- Weight loss.
A blood test is the only way to find out whether you or a family member already has lead poisoning. Call your doctor or local health department to arrange for a blood test. You can protect your family every day by:
- Regularly cleaning floors, window sills, and other surfaces;
- Washing children's hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often;
- Making sure children eat a healthy, nutritious diet consistent with the USDA's dietary guidelines; and
- Wiping off shoes before entering the house.
Lead in Drinking Water
Flush your pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for consumption. The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, "flush" your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get.
Safety Tip of the Month