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October is National Home Indoor Air Quality & Awareness Month

Radon Action Week

Developed by Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes Program and supported by Presidential Proclamation, each week focuses on a different home indoor air topic.

Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes


















































Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Healthy Homes - Indoor Air Quality

About Lead & Lead Hazards

Where Does Lead Come From? 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.

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. Leaded gasoline is no longer allowed for most uses. However, much of the soil near busy roads is still contaminated from the past burning of leaded gasoline. This soil can get into our homes.

There are many other possible sources of lead in the environment. While these other sources of lead are less common than paint or contaminated soil, they can be a problem in a particular location or home. These include industrial pollution, ceramics or pottery dishes with lead glazes (rare in the U.S. unless antique), hobby or art materials, lead soldered food cans (illegal in the U.S.), and folk medicines. Some older homes may have lead pipes or lead solder on plumbing pipes that can contaminate the water.

In the United States, we have made great progress in reducing the lead in our environment, and protecting our children from lead poisoning. However, the battle is not won. There are almost a million preschool age children with elevated levels of lead in their blood – over 4% of all children in the U.S. Given the severe mental and physical consequences of even very small amounts of lead in a child’s body, we must continue the effort to eliminate lead poisoning.

Lead Hazards and Children: Children face more serious risks from lead exposure than adults. Growing bodies are very sensitive to the effects of lead. In addition, childhood behaviors, such as hand-to-mouth activities, make it easy for lead to enter their bodies. Lead poisoning is a common pediatric health problem. It can affect children of all social classes in urban, suburban, or rural housing.

The introduction of lead into a child’s body can severely harm brain and central nervous system functions. Often this damage does not produce immediate symptoms, so harmful lead exposure can go untreated. The result is impaired mental and physical development. Research has shown a relationship between high blood lead levels in children and lower IQ scores. Other effects, which may become permanent, include learning, behavioral, speech, and growth problems.

Because of the health effects of lead poisoning, children may not reach their full potential. Lead poisoning has not just personal, but social consequences. Most disturbing is that lead poisoning is totally preventable!

Lead poisoning is a very serious disease. Even low levels of lead may cause adverse health effects. Fortunately, this health hazard can be prevented by identifying the risks and taking actions designed to eliminate and reduce a child’s exposure. Identify potential sources of lead in a child’s environment and work to reduce or eliminate this hazard. Provide the child with a healthy diet, high in calcium and iron and low in fat, to minimize absorption of lead by the body. Further, test all children at the age of one year for elevated blood lead levels.

Screening Children for Lead Exposure: Many experts recommend that all children should have a blood lead level test at the age of 12 months. Children in high-risk exposure groups should be tested as young as 6 months. Follow-up testing should occur at 24 months. Further testing may be needed if the risk continues.

Children at particular risk for lead poisoning include those who:

Live in or regularly visit a house, daycare center or home of a relative built before 1978, especially if there is peeling or chipping paint, or recent or on-going remodeling:

  • Have a sibling, housemate, pet, or playmate that recently had lead poisoning.
  • Live with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to lead.
  • Live near an active lead smelter or other industry likely to release lead.

A blood test can reveal recent lead exposure. Lead in blood is measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL). If the amount of lead is at or above 10 µg/dL, there is concern that the child is being exposed to dangerous amounts of lead. An investigation of the child’s environment is necessary to find the sources of lead. High blood lead levels may require medical treatment

Lead Based Paint and Lead Hazards: 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.

Lead-based paint is found in many places in and around an older home. Examples include interior and exterior walls, ceilings, stairways, door and window trim, and baseboards. If surfaces that contain lead-based paint are in good condition, they are not likely to pose a hazard. However, all lead-based paint surfaces should be inspected regularly to look for signs of wear or disintegration.

Any lead-painted surface that shows 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 that disturbs 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.

Testing for Lead: 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 source 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.

There are three ways used to test for lead in paint. Do-it-yourself test kits are available from home supply or hardware stores, or through catalogues. These typically use a swab that will change colors in the presence of lead. These kits only test the surface they contact, and the results may not be reliable.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis uses an instrument that looks something like a gun. The gun is aimed at the painted surface and the quantity of lead is measured without damage to the finish. When used by a licensed and trained professional, XRF analysis can be very accurate. However, it can be expensive.

Laboratory analysis is a reliable method to test for lead. Typically, samples of paint are removed and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Commercial environmental testing laboratories can chemically evaluate samples for the presence of lead. Some health departments may offer this service. Removing the paint samples for testing will damage the surface. An alternative to removing paint samples is to use a damp wipe to dust painted surfaces, and then test the wipe for the presence of lead dust.

Testing for lead can be complicated and expensive, but may be necessary. For example, if a child is diagnosed with lead poisoning, the source must be found. Lead Inspectors are licensed and trained professionals that can test a home for the presence of lead in your home. Risk Assessors are lead inspectors with further training to help you identify and reduce the overall hazards and risks of lead in your home.

Reducing the Risk of Lead in Your Home: Lead abatement – removing the source of lead – will reduce the hazard of lead. However, the method can be costly. It is also dangerous. Lead abatement, if not done according to strict safety guidelines, can increase the amount of lead dust, and thus lead hazards, in the home. Lead abatement is a job for trained and licensed professionals.

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 that contain 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.


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