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Lead Poisoning

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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There are numerous sources of lead in our environment. Lead does not decompose or rot, so it stays in place for a long time. Lead has been used in many materials throughout history. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives us awareness tips and ideas to reduce the chances of lead poisoning.

Today, for most children, the major source of lead is from lead contaminated dust. Most of this lead dust comes from old paint with lead or leaded gasoline. Lead-based paint has been banned since 1978, but many older homes still have this paint on walls, woodwork, siding, windows, and doors. As the paint wears, or is disturbed by renovations, it creates lead dust.

If your home was built before 1978, it could have lead-based paint. Older homes, such as those built before 1950, are more likely to have lead-based paint, and may have other sources of lead, such as plumbing. Confirming the presence of lead is the first step to controlling the hazard of lead. If a painted surface is suspected of lead, have it tested. Paint chips are a hazard if eaten. However, lead-based paint contributes to a more serious hazard – lead dust. Lead dust is easily inhaled or ingested, and is very difficult to identify. Lead dust may be scattered throughout the house, and can be found on toys, floors, play areas, soil, and food.

If surfaces containing lead-based paint are in good condition, they are not likely to pose a hazard. Any lead-painted surface showing signs of deterioration can easily release lead into the environment. In particular, watch for hazardous conditions such as chipping, flaking, abrasion, and water damage.

Any home renovation disturbing lead-based paint can release very dangerous amounts of lead dust into the air in the home. Home remodeling is a frequent cause of lead poisoning in young children. Renovation work should proceed only when those performing the work are well aware of the hazards and knowledgeable about how to reduce the risk.

If lead-based paint is a risk in the home, there are several ways to reduce the hazard. Lead abatement – removal of the paint – is costly and dangerous. Although it may be necessary, it should only be done by trained professionals. Sometimes, painted surfaces can be sealed with good quality paint or covered with another material. Good maintenance and housekeeping practices, especially wet cleaning to reduce dust, can help control the risk of lead dust.

If lead abatement is not a reasonable option, there are other ways to reduce the hazard of lead in the home. Here are some ideas:

* Create a barrier to the source of lead. Place drywall or paneling over deteriorating surfaces containing lead-based paint.

* Wet clean floors, baseboards, windowsills, and other surfaces regularly, to reduce lead dust. Use warm water and an all-purpose cleaner. Thoroughly rinse mops, sponges, and cloths after cleaning.

* Use a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner. Common household vacuum cleaners can actually increase exposure to lead dust.

* Wash hands before preparing foods or eating meals.

* Wash children's toys frequently.

* Remove shoes when coming inside the home to limit lead dust from outside.

* Prohibit children from playing near deteriorating lead-based paint surfaces.

* Keep children and pets out of areas of renovations or remodeling, to minimize exposure to lead dust.

* Plant grass or ground cover over soil that might have high lead levels.

* To protect your family from lead poisoning do not try to remove lead-based paint yourself.

The EPA has a bulletin "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home" available on their Web site: http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadpdfe.pdf.


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(This resource was updated October 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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