lead

Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Safe Are Your Wood-Carving Arts and Crafts?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By LuzV Garcia, MS, ME

Traditionally, Puerto Rico celebrates Three Kings Day on January 6th. In Puerto Rico, the Three Kings or Three Wise Men are commonly depicted in wood carved sculptures by local artisans.

There is another difference in their portrayal in Puerto Rico. The artistic depictions of our Three Kings show them riding horses instead of camels. There are a variety of iconographic images where the Three Kings are riding to the left as if following the Bethlehem star. There are other images where the Kings are standing holding the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

While local artisans use local woods, bamboo, metals, and paints in their arts and crafts, there is a risk that some artists may still use lead-based paint in some of their crafts.

Wood painting is an art that has existed for centuries. In fact, Greeks first developed the technique of wood painting back in the Sixth century BC!

One of the environmental problems associated with wood carving is the use of chemicals or synthetic pigments such as white lead (basic lead carbonate), red and hydrated yellow ochre. We know that some colors such as black were generated from charcoal or carbon black pigment.

The original organic pigments were generated from plant components that were mixed with resin or natural oils such as Linseed oil to dissolve the solid particles in the pigment. It is important to know that the natural tints were derived from plants, minerals and invertebrates that were pulverized and dissolved into a liquid media. Originally, artisans used egg yolk as the media to transfer the pigments. The technique is called “Tempera.” It was a long lasting technique and the pigments were all natural ingredients. Beeswax was also used to seal the pigment to the wood.

Around the 19th Century, natural dyes were replaced with mineral pigments made of lead and chromium. These pigments enhanced the natural color of wood. Artisans now have the option of using organic or synthetic materials. Ask your wood artisan what type of paint he uses when making these wood carvings to ensure that no one is exposed to toxic metals like chromium or lead.

To learn more about the health risks of lead, visit.  While it’s important to keep traditions, it’s even more important to stay safe and healthy.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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‘Tis the Season: Know What’s in your Candy

By Marcia Anderson

A few weeks ago, while visiting Montefiore Hospital, in the Bronx, for a conference on lead poisoning, we were shocked to learn of some very dangerous imported candies that have been recalled.  So close to the holidays, I felt it prudent to get more information on these products and pass along the warning.

The potential for children to be exposed to lead from imported candy has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue warnings on the availability of lead-contaminated candy and to develop tighter guidelines for manufacturers, importers and distributors of imported candy. Check the wrappers: Candies with elevated lead levels appear to primarily from Mexico, Malaysia, China, India, Central and South America.

Why might lead be present in imported candy? Lead sometimes gets into the candy when processes such as drying, storing and grinding the ingredients are done improperly. Also, lead has been found in the wrappers of some imported candies. The ink of these plastic or paper wrappers may contain lead that leaches into the candy. These candies may not have an unusual taste; in fact, many forms of lead found in candies have a sweet taste.

Why does this seem to be a problem with imported candy, rather than candy that is produced in the United States?
Candies produced domestically are subject to inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state agencies to ensure that the ingredients used, and the manufacturing processes employed, produce a product that is safe and unadulterated. Some other countries may not be taking this much care.

What to do if you believe you or your child may have eaten candies that contain lead? See your health care provider. He or she can perform a blood test to see whether you or your child has been exposed to lead and, if so, recommend treatment options. Most adults and children with elevated blood lead levels do not have any symptoms. As blood lead levels increase so does the effects of lead on health.

What is the health risk from eating candy with unsafe levels of lead? Lead poisoning continues to be the most common and serious environmental health threat to children under the age of six. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when he or she is still developing, making it difficult  to learn, pay attention and perform well in school. Lead poisoning can cause problems such as lower IQ, hyperactivity, impaired growth, and behavior problems. Lead exposure can also cause kidney damage, anemia, increased blood pressure, and more. Remember: The EPA has concluded that no amount of lead is safe for a child.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lead in Lipstick

By Marcia Anderson

For us ladies, we may not think twice when putting on our favorite lipstick or getting a hair-straightening treatment to fight the frizziness, but exactly how safe are these beauty products? Truth is, these products may contain toxins such as formaldehyde (found in hair-straightening treatments) and heavy metals (such as arsenic and lead in lipstick) that are harmful to your health.

Lead is in lipstick either because the raw materials are contaminated with lead, or the pigment contains lead. Lead in lipstick is not new. In the 1990s, reports of analytical results from a commercial testing laboratory suggested that traces of lead in lipstick might be of concern. You could be paying a high and harmful price to get those ruby red lips each day.

A study completed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) in 2007 reported finding lead in most brands of lipsticks.  The amounts found in some brands are of concern. FDA scientists found lead in all of the 20 lipsticks they tested. Lead levels ranged from 0.09 ppm to 7.9 pm.

Some people may think, “how much harm can something that’s just going on my lips really cause?“ Lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels over time. Women swallow somewhere between three and nine pounds of lipstick over the course of their lifetime.

Unfortunately, on packages you will not see lead listed in its ingredients, but there are lists and other tips out there that can help when trying to find a safe shade to compliment your lips.  Stay away from products that say they are “not easy removable” or “longer lasting”. These lipsticks are not easy to “remove” because they contain more lead.

Don’t be overly concerned, however. There are a number of lipstick brands that have been tested and are found to be lead free. You can get plenty of information on these brands on the internet. And, here, in the New York Metropolitan area, you can find many of those brands at the corner drugstore.

Years ago, you could play with your mom’s makeup without her thinking they could be harmful. We now know that mom should exercise caution with her cosmetics. Our bodies store lead and having more lead in your system puts you at a greater risk of cancer and other health problems.  Remember, there is no safe lead level.

You may also want to look at your other cosmetics. The average woman applies 168 different chemicals to her face every single day. The average man applies only 85. But of the thousands of chemicals in today’s personal care products, only 11% have been tested for safety. What other toxic chemicals might be lurking in your cosmetics?

Concerned about lead in your environment? Go to www.epa.gov/lead , or call 311 in New York City or  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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: Keeping our Kids Healthy Starts at Home

By Jess Portmess

My new nephew is still too young to pick up toys or explore the floors and walls of the house on all fours. But if his daily growth is any indication, it’s not that far off. I didn’t imagine my clerkship with EPA could make me think of him more often than I already do. Yet, he’s the face I see as I learn more about how to protect children from lead-based paint hazards. He is, after all, among those who are the most sensitive to the dangers from lead-based paint.

As a law clerk with EPA, I hope to gain a better understanding of how EPA makes concrete strides in solving big environmental problems. With hundreds of thousands of children affected by lead poisoning, I’d say the “big” shoe fits. The inspiring and motivating reality is, however, that lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. If you live in a home built before 1978, chances are it may have lead paint. That paint can wear over time, chipping away for a curious child’s hands or turning into dust that accumulates on the floor, window troughs, and other surfaces of your home. Renovations can disturb lead paint and spread more dust. But you can prevent these risks from affecting your family by regularly cleaning your home’s surfaces, maintaining painted surfaces, having your home inspected by a lead-safe certified professional, and renovating only with lead-safe certified contractors.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness about lead paint hazards, especially in the home. This week focuses on the many ways that parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects. To start, learn the facts about lead, or have your home tested. You could even ask your doctor to test your child for lead.

Preventing lead poisoning can be simple and the consequences of inaction are too terrible to ignore. Lead-contaminated dust can slow a child’s growth, inhibit his learning, and damage his brain or central nervous system. As a law student passionate about environmental law and natural resources, you learn a lot about uphill struggles where the stakes are high. For my nephew’s sake, I know I’ll keep climbing and I hope you do too.

For more information about National Lead Poisoning Prevention week visit

About the author: Jess Portmess is a law clerk in the National Program Chemicals Division of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be graduating from American University Washington College of Law in May 2013.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lead Poisoning: The Single Most Significant Environmental Health Threat to American Children

By Marcia Anderson

Lead poisons huge numbers of people of all ages and walks of life, but most vulnerable are the very young. Although lead can affect adults, those most sensitive to lead’s adverse effects — and at highest risk — are infants, fetuses and children up to six years. Lead is now recognized as the single most significant environmental health threat to American children.

Lead in dirt is a persisting problem, which is why it is increasingly important to screen your child for lead poisoning based on the risk factors indicated in this post.

Special vulnerability of children: Children are in double jeopardy from the ill effects of lead, because their highest potential for exposure occurs due to their behavioral patterns: children engage in more hand-to-mouth activity than adults, and therefore ingest more contaminants in dust or dirt. This high exposure comes at a time when children’s bodies are building their vital organs and bones and lead is particularly toxic to their developing nervous systems. In addition, children’s bodies are not as efficient at depositing circulatory lead into their bones, and thus a higher percentage of the total lead in their bodies becomes available to exert toxic effects on their internal organs.

Children are usually exposed to lead by swallowing paint chips or dirt contaminated with lead. Since lead was an ingredient of paint prior to 1977, children living in older homes with chipping paint are the most at risk for lead poisoning. Children need to be screened for lead poisoning, especially if they have any of the following risk factors: If you live or often visit a house that was built before 1978 and has been remodeled in the past 6 months, or if you live in a zip code where more than 27% of the homes were built before 1950. New York State requires health care providers to test all children with a blood lead test at age 1 and again at age 2. Up to age 6, your doctor or nurse should ask you about ways your child may have had contact with lead. Check with your local health department to see if you live in a high risk area. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating Children’s Health Month

By Maureen O’Neill

So why are you reading this?  Are you interested, worried or want to take action?  For you then, here’s some good and bad news.

Let’s do the good first.  There is a wealth of information on every children’s health topic you can imagine.  Chances are, if you are reading this, you’ve already been exposed to topics like lead, methylmercury, PCBs and goodness knows what else.  If you haven’t and want an overview, you can check out the websites of EPA, CDC, NIEHS and many others.

I am a professed info junkie and although I try, I can’t keep up with everything.  I don’t know anyone who can.  So I focus in on what I need to know and be sure I’m looking at some of the topical sources to see what’s going on.  My own favorite for this is Environmental Health News which lands in your mailbox every day.

Are you a parent or someone worried about a child’s exposure and what it means?  Do you need to get professional advice?  We have a Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit serving the region (NJ, NY, Puerto Rico and the USVI) at Mt. Sinai.  These are docs who specialize in environmental health topics and you can get a free phone consultation.  The PEHSU also provide clinical consultation and education for health care professionals, public health officials, and community organizations with concerns regarding children’s environmental health.  See more here.

Here’s the not so good part.  There’s a lot of information on children’s health out there, of varying quality, and many of the topics have emerging science.  That means that frequently there aren’t good clear yes/no answers that we all want to have.  So, what to do?

I think the smartest thing is to be protective of your kids, have fun with them and practice the best tips I know.  Go to http://www2.epa.gov/children to see how to help your kids breathe easier, protect them from lead poisoning, keep pesticides and other toxics away from children and protect them from carbon monoxide, contaminated fish, radon and other environmental hazards.  We can’t protect children from everything, but if you follow these steps, you are giving your children the best.

About the author: Maureen O’Neill is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Region’s Office of Strategic Programs. Her focus is targeting environmental programs and resources to issues impacting environmental health, with a particular focus on at-risk children. Prior to her New York assignment, her work involved water issues, both domestic and international. She has been involved with the United States Government Middle East Peace Process focusing on water issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Happy Lead Free Kids

Look both ways before crossing the sidewalk.  Don’t take candy from strangers. Don’t stick your finger in the light socket!

There’s a long list of things my parents told me to be afraid of when I was a kid, lead-based paint was never one of them. Maybe that’s why I was able to grow up without worrying about what was coating the swing set I played on and what kind of paint was on the walls in my room was because of the federal regulations and efforts made since the late 1970s to prevent children and adults from being affected by lead-based paint poisoning. It makes me sad to know that there are still so many children who are exposed to lead-based paint dangers in and near our homes. More than 1 million children are affected by lead poisoning today, and this is especially troublesome, in my opinion, because lead poisoning from lead based paint is 100 percent preventable.

We might not be able to make things better overnight and, as students and young adults, the scope of power to affect policy change may seem limited. Together though, we can help prevent lead-based paint poisoning. You’re probably asking how.  You do not have to donate money or start a march for the cause. Use social media and other technology to spread the word. It’s at our fingertips.  Just help by simply spreading the knowledge to your friends and family that lead in paint is still a problem in the US and that lead-based paint exposure can be prevented. Send an E-card on lead-safe practices or print out a poster and hang it in your room or at school. You can also find great prevention information and a neat web tool to help parents identify common danger zones for lead in older homes built before 1978. Check it out. Read about the facts and act on them.

http://www.epa.gov/lead/

Esther Kwon was an intern for the Lead, Heavy Metals & Inorganics Branch in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be graduating in the spring of 2012 from Smith College.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greener Holidays

By Lina Younes

Doesn’t it seem that stores are trying to get consumers in the holiday spending spirit earlier than ever? It’s not just the fact that holiday decorations are go up months before Thanksgiving, but now we’re seeing the big store chains promoting super deals even before Black Friday, the unofficial beginning of the holiday season.

Even my youngest daughter is jumping on the bandwagon and she’s trying to convince me to take her to the mall on this maddening day. She claims that she wants to buy gifts for the family and her friends, but I know she’s really lobbying for a few gifts for herself in the electronics department and clothes, of course. At least at this age, I still can influence some of her purchasing decisions. I’m glad that I’ve made her more environmentally conscious about green shopping and avoiding those trinkets that might contain lead and other toxic chemicals.  I’m also happy to see that she still prefers a good book over a meaningless toy.

Nonetheless, before we embark on a shopping spree, let’s try to think of the real significance of what we are supposed to be celebrating. As the holiday season begins, let’s give thanks for our family and friends, our health and our environment. We can all do our part to make a difference to make this world a happier and better place. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.