Lead can lurk in many places, even in the home. While occasional exposure to lead doesn’t harm healthy adults, chronic exposure can lead to serious health problems ranging from anemia to kidney damage and certain cancers.
This is especially true for young children. Young children are not only more likely to put contaminated objects in their mouths, but their bodies are also more vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead, even in smaller amounts.
7 sources of lead in your home and what to do about them
Although lead-based paint has not been sold since 1978, it can still be found in some older homes. If you start repairs or a renovation project in an old building, lead particles from the paint can get into the air. Lead dust then collects on the surfaces in your home, which can be inhaled or ingested by a baby.
What to do:
- If you live in a home built before 1978, get it tested for lead or use an at-home testing kit.
- If the tests are positive for lead, you can encapsulate the older paint with new lead-free paint.
Lead has been banned in many children's products. However, there is no surefire way to determine whether a particular product is completely lead-free. Some imported toys and antique toys are often covered in lead-based paint. Lead may also be in the plastic of such toys.
What to do:
- Buy only age-appropriate toys for your kids so that there is no risk of swallowing. Stuffed animals, books, and toys made from unpainted woods are safer options. Avoid vinyl toys and consider buying soft leather-type toys.
- Wash your child's hands with soap and water before eating, naps, and bedtime.
- Discard or avoid buying toys from vending machines or street fairs that are metal or painted. Err on the side of caution, since it is difficult to know where they have been manufactured.
- If you have antique toys, keep them away from babies. You can let them play with them when your child is older and has stopped chewing or sucking on toys.
- Many toys have been recalled in the past for the presence of lead. Visit www.recall.gov to learn about them.
In 2006, there was a case of a child dying from lead poisoning after he swallowed a piece of toy metal jewelry. Imported jewelry also poses a similar risk for children.
What to do:
- Don’t let babies or young children play with toy metal jewelry or costume jewelry.
- Keep foreign-made jewelry in a safe place out of your child’s reach.
Dishes and utensils made from materials such as ceramics, china, leaded crystal, and pewter, contain higher amounts of lead. This creates potential risk because heating food in these items can cause harmful lead to leach into food. Older or foreign-made lead-glazed dishware may be dangerous as well, since the FDA didn’t start regulating lead in dishware until the 1970s.
What to do:
- Do not microwave or store hot food in ceramics; use glass instead.
- If you find cracks in dishes or the glaze on them looks chalky even after washing, discard them.
- When buying dishware, look for labels that say lead-free.
Old water pipes, especially from 1930 or earlier, may contain lead. About 10%-20%of childhood lead poisoning is caused by drinking water contaminated with lead.
Plumbers still use lead solder copper pipes. After 5 years, mineral deposits build up in the pipes that insulate the water from the lead. This means that water pipes in very new homes (less than 5 years old) still pose a potential risk of lead exposure. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), any building less than 5 years old is most likely to have lead-contaminated water.
What to do:
- Contact your local health authority or water utility company to see how you can test your water supply for lead.
- If you suspect lead in your pipes or other water sources replace them if you can afford to do so.
- Do not use hot water directly from the faucet for cooking or drinking. Instead, heat cold water from the faucet. Hot water contains more lead than cold water.
- If you haven't used a faucet in 6 hours, let the water flow for 1 minute before you use it for drinking or cooking. If you have a lead service pipeline, allow it to flow for at least 3 minutes.
Large amounts of lead in soil can accumulate in plants. Fruit juices in cans lined with lead can also become contaminated. This happens most often in imported foods stored in cans.
What to do:
- Make sure you wash fruits and vegetables before eating to remove any lead dust on them. Remove the outer leaves of leafy green vegetables before eating. Do not store juices or food in open cans. Use containers made from glass, stainless steel, or sturdy plastic for storing.
- Call the customer services line of your favorite food brands to check if they check for lead levels regularly. If lead is present, it should always be less than 1 ppb (parts per billion).
- Your plant gardens should ideally be kept away from a house, garage, or other structure that has chipping paint.
Most office, car, and house keys contain large amounts of lead.
What to do:
- Keep all the keys away from your babies and don’t let them suck or chew on them.
- Offer your baby plastic toy keys to play with instead.
What to do if you have concerns about lead exposure
If you want to check if you or your family have been exposed to large quantities of lead, ask your doctor for a blood test that checks the levels of lead in your blood.
If you have concerns regarding the presence of lead in and around your home, contact your local health authorities.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
New York State Department of Health. Sources of Lead. https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/lead/sources.htm
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Protect Your Family from Sources of Lead. https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-sources-lead
WebMD. 5 Surprising Sources of Lead Exposure. https://www.webmd.com/children/lead
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