Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States."
People can be exposed to lead through a variety of ways:
Before the hazards were recognized lead was widely used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.
Lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. today. Harmful exposures to lead can be created when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning. High concentrations of airborne lead particles in homes can also result from lead dust from outdoor sources, including contaminated soil tracked inside, and use of lead in certain indoor activities such as soldering and stained-glass making.
Most homes and buildings built before 1960 contain lead paint. Some structures built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the exterior, or other surfaces. Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust (for example, opening a window).
Lead in drinking water is another source of exposure. While well and city water usually do not contain lead, water can be contaminated from contact with plumbing that contains lead materials. Testing is the only way to know if lead is present in drinking water.
Health Effects from Exposure to Lead
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. At high levels it can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can adversely affect the brain, central nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys.
The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.
It’s important to conduct lead inspections and sampling prior to any renovations or demolitions and treat all painted surfaces as being lead. Sampling may be performed using an XRF or by collecting bulk samples for laboratory analysis. The inspection/risk assessment should be conducted in accordance with applicable Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations.
For additional information dealing with lead-based paint abatement and testing contact Environmental Management Consultants or your local health department.