Lead Sources, Health Effects & Prevention

Sources Of Lead Exposure

The main source of lead poisoning is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978.

Lead contamination in the home comes primarily from old lead-based paint that is deteriorating or rubbed off friction surfaces, such as windows and doors.

Children are exposed from playing or living in a contaminated home. The home may be contaminated even if it appears to be clean. Both inside and outside the home, deteriorated lead-paint mixes with dust and soil.

Children may become lead-poisoned by putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths, eating paint chips or playing in contaminated soil. Typically, children are poisoned by exposure to lead-contaminated household dust.

If any children under the age of 6 lives in pre-1978 housing or regularly visits any pre-1978 housing (day care, grandparents, friend's house), get them tested for lead.

If a building was constructed before 1978, there is a possibility lead-based paint was used in the paint. Typically, buildings built before 1950 have an even greater chance of having lead-based painted surfaces.

To determine whether or not lead-based paint exists in a building, a lead risk assessment or lead-based paint inspection must be conducted by licensed lead risk assessors, which may include surface testing with an XRF machine, dust samples, or laboratory paint-chip analysis.

Health Effects

Lead is especially toxic for children under 6 years of age. The effect of lead poisoning is irreversible and may lead to:

  • hyperactivity
  • learning and behavioral problems
  • brain damage
  • impaired hearing
  • juvenile delinquency
  • kidney problems
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • appetite loss

At very high levels, lead poisoning may cause seizures, coma and even death.

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults may suffer from:

  • reproductive problems
  • high blood pressure
  • digestive problems
  • nerve disorders
  • memory and concentration problems
  • muscle and joint pain

Some symptoms of lead poisoning may include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, tiredness, and irritability.

Lead can harm children and adults without causing any obvious symptoms, and it frequently goes unrecognized. Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their blood.

Lead poisoning remains one of the top childhood environmental health problems today -- and is entirely preventable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 310,000 U.S. children ages 1 to 5 have blood lead levels greater than the level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

The only way to determine exposure from lead is to receive a blood lead test. There is no safe level of lead in the blood.

Reducing Exposure to Lead

  • Stabilize non-intact paint that is peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking through wet scraping. Simply painting over a hazard with regular paint is not enough, remove, seal or enclose the hazardous areas.
  • Before renovating, call the Cincinnati Health Department at 513-357-7420.
  • Make sure children do not have access to non-intact paint.
  • Pregnant women and children should not be present in pre-1978 housing during renovation or before thorough clean-up with wet washing and HEPA vacuuming.
  • Regularly wash children's hands and toys.
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components with disposable items (such as paper towels) and a general all-purpose cleaner. Bleach is NOT recommended as it will not remove lead and can damage wooded components.
  • Avoid eating candies imported from Mexico; the wrappers typically contain high levels of lead.
  • Avoid using containers, cookware, or tableware (especially from Latin America) to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead-free.
  • Never store food in an opened can.
  • Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry immediately from children.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking and for making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead, because most of the lead in household water typically comes from household plumbing that can leach lead.
  • Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products, such as stained glass work, bullet making, using a firing range, recycling or making automobile batteries.
  • Keep a healthy diet. The body can mistake lead for calcium, potassium or iron, having a diet rich in these nutrients may lower the risk of lead absorption.
  • Plant grass to cover soil so there are no bare areas.