Lead Poisoning: A Cumulative and Persistent Problem In our Homes (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

Lead poisons huge numbers of people of all ages and walks of life, and the effects of lead most often present themselves as chronic and debilitating. The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. So, despite the dramatic reduction in sources of lead exposure, lead poisoning remains a reality for a disturbingly high number of people in this country. Though lead is no longer added to gasoline, paint or plumbing fixtures, very little has been done in most states to eliminate the hazards posed by lead in existing paint and plumbing systems and lead-contaminated soil and dust. In 1995 the federal government estimated that 83 percent of the privately owned homes built before 1980 contain some lead-based paint, with 23 percent of these homes with soil lead levels in excess of 400 ppm.

Most exposure occurs at Home. When lead paint peels or is disturbed — even during minor renovations — lead-containing dust is produced. Lead dust is one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to lead. Lead dust may not be visible to the naked eye however, most lead dust forms as a result of flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded or disturbed during home remodeling If swallowed, even the tiniest lead particles are dangerous. Exterior paint is even higher in lead content and thus more dangerous when it becomes accessible to the interior at windowsills.

People are poisoned by inhaling and ingesting these tiny particles that flake off by opening and closing of windows and doors. These lead particles settle on windowsills, wood floors, and in carpeting and other low-lying areas. Similarly, flakes and particles from exterior paint accumulate in the soil outside a house. The finer particles can easily blow into homes and offices as dust. The concentration of lead in soil adjacent to homes with lead-based paint can be as high as 10,000 ppm.

How can I tell if my house has lead in or around It? The older the house, the greater the risk. If your house has lead paint, it is best to find a qualified lead abatement professional to get rid of it. Removing lead paint yourself can be very dangerous, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

I have lead in my home and nowhere else to go. What do I do? Natural indoor air currents keep microscopic dust particles in the air. You can keep the dust out of the air with an ionizer or negative ion generator. This is a temporary fix. When an ionizer is running, the negative ions cause the dust particles floating in the air to be attracted to one another and stick together. When a bunch of them stick together and form a bigger clump of dust particles they become heavy enough to sink down to the floor and they can be vacuumed up. The main goal of an ionizer is to get the dust out of the air so that it cannot be breathed in.

Concerned about lead in your environment? Go to www.epa.gov/lead , or call 311 in New York City or call the National lead hotline: 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.