The United States and Canada began the phaseout of lead in gasoline in 1975. The following year, both countries limited the amount of lead in interior house paint. These regulations were intended to lessen the dangerous presence of lead in our environment.
Lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful when ingested or inhaled. In the body, lead competes with calcium for storage space, interferes with nerve transmissions in the brain, and can damage blood cells.
Doctors say that children are particularly at risk because of their immature digestive systems. They absorb more of the lead they ingest than adults do. Chronic exposure to low levels of lead can result in learning or behavioral problems in children. Scientists estimate that an increase of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood can lower a child’s IQ by up to 3 points. Higher exposures can lead to more serious problems, including kidney and neurological damage, and may even be fatal.
You can help reduce your family’s risk of exposure to the harmful effects of lead by considering these potential sources in the home:
– Old (pre-1976) interior house paint: Wash any areas of old paint weekly, never sand, scrape, or remove with a heat gun, and sweep up paint chips immediately. Whenever possible, cover paint with wallpaper, wallboard, or special sealants. Never try to remove lead paint yourself; it should be done by a specialist.
– Pipes: The lead pipes or solder in some older plumbing systems can leach lead into tap water, especially water that has been sitting overnight. You may wish to have your tap water tested. Other tips: Use cold water for drinking and cooking, and run the tap for a minute first.
– Ceramics: Especially those pieces that are hand-made which may have a lead-based glaze that can leach lead into food: Do not use ceramic containers for storing juice, vinegar, or other acidic foods. Children and pregnant women should not use crystal glassware and should use only commercially made mugs for hot beverages. Do not store liquor in a crystal decanter.
– Mini blinds: Health authorities in the United States and Canada have warned against the use of some horizontal mini blinds imported from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Mexico that contain lead.
– Soil: Don’t let children play in soil that’s near a highway. If they do, wash their hands; the soil may contain residue from the leaded-gas era. And wipe your shoes on a doormat before entering the house.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of lead poisoning is to drink milk. Doctors say that a healthy daily intake of calcium helps minimize the body’s absorption of lead.