Preventing lead exposure

by Krista Reisdorf

Lead exposure can be a stealthy hazard for adults and children. It can be encountered in ordinary places, such as homes or workplaces, and exposure can be as simple as breathing or swallowing lead dust, as well as eating soil or paint chips that contain lead. It can even appear in children's toys, as evidenced by recent toy recalls.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, hearing problems, headaches, impeded growth, and behavior and learning problems. In adults, lead exposure can cause difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, reproductive problems, muscle and joint pain, and memory and concentration problems.

Lead often can be found in homes and apartments that were built before 1978 and used lead-based paint. Another well-known source is soil around a home, which can contain lead from exterior paint. Lead from paint chips and paint dust can be serious hazards. However, there are other lead sources that may not be as obvious, such as:

  • Drinking water—plumbing in your home might contain lead or lead solder.
  • At work—if you work with lead, you may bring it home on your hands or clothes.
  • Old painted toys and furniture
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain
  • Hobbies that use lead—for example, refinishing furniture or making pottery or stained glass
  • Folk remedies, such as greta and azarcon, that use lead
  • Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air

The good news is there are ways to detect and prevent lead exposure. If you think you or your family members are being exposed to high levels of lead, you can:

  • Get tested. Blood tests can detect high levels of lead.
  • Have a risk assessment performed at your house. This can tell you if your home has any sources of serious lead exposure and how to address these hazards.
  • Clean floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces each week, thoroughly rinsing sponges and mops after cleaning dusty or dirty areas.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home.
  • Keep play areas clean, and wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Wash children's hands often, and prevent them from chewing on window sills or other painted surfaces.
  • Feed children low-fat meals high in iron and calcium; a good diet allows less lead absorption.
  • Hire a lead "abatement" contractor who can properly remove, seal or enclose lead-based paint.
  • Contact your local health department or water supplier about testing your water for lead.
  • If you work with lead, shower and change clothes before going home, and wash your clothes separately from the rest of your family's.

For more information, visit EPA's Web site,

This Web exclusive information is a supplement to Safe Solutions.