Advice about Lead

Archived Q&A and Reviews

See also: Recommendations for lead inspection and removal

How dangerous is lead?

May 1998

Does anyone have any experience or information about lead poisoning? We just did a lead test in the house we rent, and found lead in both the interior and exterior paint (which is peeling and chipping). We read the pamphlets about lead provided by the EPA, which give advice on cleaning and dusting weekly to prevent the buildup of lead dust, etc. What we can't seem to find out is how dangerous lead actually is, and what are the chances of it hurting our child. If lead poisoning is such a great danger, it seems like a rather trite solution, just to paint over it and dust a lot. We don't want to move if we don't have to, but we need to know just how dangerous this is. Judith

The University does lead testing for children living in family housing or in UC operated childcare every fall. You can get alot of information down at the Tang Center regarding lead poisoning and various preventative measures. I highly encourage you to stop by there and pick up the info. Kathleen
Our 110 year old house in Alameda was treated for lead-based paint almost 2 years ago, through the auspices of the Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. They tested the paint everywhere, tested the yard in places, tested the house dust, and concluded that painting over the woodwork inside and out would take care of most of it. The painted floor also had to be covered, and we opted for new wood over the old.

They arranged an *interest-free* loan that covered about 3/4 of the job (with an approved contractor), again county-subsidized. They scheduled post-abatement inspection and testing, and testing of our child (thankfully no lead!). They also provided materials that may be more explanatory than what the EPA provided.

Call them (Alameda County listings). Lead is nasty and permanent in its effects on the nervous system, but proper abatement (including re-sodding lawns after abatement) can do the job fairly affordably in most cases not involving a badly decrepit house. Situations differ, your decision may be different than ours (to abate and stay). But in any case, seek information and take action. Lead is an issue that can no longer be 'swept under the rug' given all the older housing out there, and the tight housing market. Nils

Ask your doctor to perform a blood lead level test. They jsut take some blood and check it out. Then you have a sense of how much lead has already been taken it. If it is low, don;t worry. Also, it provides a baseline and you can re-test in a year. My husband is a painter and deals with old paint all the time, so he is checked annually and since he brings dust and so on in our house, our son is tested annually. No one has elevated levels in our house and we have peeling and chipping paint too. Also, check your water and get a filter system to filter out lead (like Britta or PUR) and use if for everything (juice, coffee, boiling pasta, etc) Laura Beth
Regarding lead poisoning, the Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program has an information line at 567-8280. They're located down on Oakland's Embarcadero and have very extensive information & workshops, and are often present at neighborhood fairs. They also have programs allowing for certain financial incentives to de-lead your home, although these might have changed since I was there in '92. Jean
Call the Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 567-8280. They have excellent materials and you can request specific info on lead in the house, soil, and water. They also provide a list of local labs and home test kit suppliers. I used their information and a lab they recommended to test the soil in my backyard and found that paint peeling into the soil had raised lead to a level that would make it unwise to plant root vegetables such as carrots, although above-ground types are apparently ok. We also live in a rental with peeling paint. We painted over the worst spots inside. The landlord agreed to repaint the badly peeling exterior trim, and although the painter took many months to get around to finishing the job, he was very careful to catch the chips in a box as he scraped. The important thing is not to sand, which sends the lead dust into the air. I've read EPA guidelines that also say not to scrape, but how can you get the new paint to stick without scraping off the really loose stuff? You should also get a blood lead test done for your child. Susan
I used to have a friend who worked for the lead abatement program for Alameda County and also a friend with OSHA ... it is my understanding from these sources (as well as my kids' doctor) that lead poisoning is VERY VERY serious; can lead to mental retardation, anemia, and all kinds of other things. You should have your CHILD tested as well as the apartment, right away ... there are blood tests ... ask the pediatrician. I have this dim sense that someone once told me that if the kid DOES have lead in the blood there are corrective measures which can be taken, but I have no real detail ... ask your doctor.

I looked into this at one point when I was living in an old apartment. The County has funds available to help landlords who are willing to truly and properly clean up the lead hazards and you might encourage your landlord to do this. In some ways the exterior lead is even more dangerous than the interior. The interior lead paint ... to sand it down and cleared away PROPERLY is very hard to do ... your family should not be living there at the time, during the rehab work, the lead dust needs to be contained, which requires certain OSHA-approved practices, and then everything needs to be repainted. This needs to be done by people who are trained AND CERTIFIED in lead-abatement rehab work. DON'T try to do this yourself, you risk stirring up more lead particles and getting them into the environment. Nor can any old house painter do this. Certified, trained people need to do lead work.

Presuming the inside could be gotten into good shape ... if the OUTSIDE of the building is flaking lead-contaminated paint into the ground, then everytime someone walks across the yard and into the house or the car lead can get tracked into the house or into the car. It is a real problem. Mary Carol

On lead poisoning; It is very serious. Check out these web sites: Facts on... Lead Background on Lead Lead provides no known biological benefit to humans. Lead can produce adverse effects on virtually every system in the body; it can damage the kidneys, the nervous system, the reproductive system, and cause high blood pressure. It is especially harmful to the developing brains of fetuses and young children. There may be no lower threshold for some of the adverse effects of lead in children. In addition, the harm that lead causes to children increases as their blood lead levels increase. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms/deciliter (ug/dL) are associated with harmful effects on children's learning and behavior. We should try to prevent the occurrence of blood lead levels of 10 ug/dL and above in children. Very high blood lead levels cause devastating health consequences including seizures, coma, and death. Children with venous blood lead levels of 20 ug/dL or above or with venous BLLs in the range of 15-19 ugdL over a period of at least 3 months need a doctor's care. Elevated BLLs in children are a major preventable health problem that affects children's mental and physical health. The higher a child's BLL and the longer it persists, the greater the chance that the child will be affected. Elevated blood lead levels can result in: learning disabilities. behavioral problems. mental retardation. at extremely high levels (70 ug/dL or higher), seizures, coma, and even death. Remaining sources of lead exposure Despite progress, major exposure sources still exist: Lead-based paint in older homes that is deteriorating, creating dust and paint chips easily ingested by young children. Lead-based paint in homes that is disturbed during renovation or remodeling. Lead-based paint in homes that is exposed, on a surface easily chewed by a young child (such as a window sill). Lead-contaminated soil. Other potential sources of lead exposure in some areas are: Operating or abandoned industrial sites and smelters. Although lead pollution has been greatly reduced, some soil and dust contamination can still result. Occupations and hobbies. Children can be exposed to lead-contaminated dust on parents' clothes. Use of lead-containing ceramics for cooking, eating or drinking. Use of traditional home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead. ____________________________________________ And children are at special risk. Not only do they often swallow lead dust, but also their bodies are smaller and their brains still developing. Even very low levels of lead poisoning in early childhood can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and mental retardation, according to the CDC. Dr. John F. Rosen, head of the lead program at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, says he has begun seeing children who were lead poisoned as the result of living near the demolition of old buildings containing lead paint. And the problem is not limited to urban areas. The library in rural Bedford, N.Y., had to be closed and decontaminated after lead paint being sandblasted off the house next door blew in through open windows. The improper removal of lead paint in the home is a major concern, says Don Ryan, executive director of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. Sanding or burning old lead paint off woodwork can be extremely dangerous for children. Burning lead paint off with a torch is especially dangerous, releasing lead fumes that can enter the lungs. Sanding creates clouds of lead-paint dust that will contaminate the entire home. Lead poisoning alert! Is your child at risk? Parents 1993 May;68(5):66-68,70 MacDonald A 931683 Lead is the country's number one environmental threat to children because: 57 million homes (built before 1980) still have lead-based paint in them; dirt can contain significant amounts of lead; lead is found in the glaze on some ceramic dishware; and lead is found in some drinking water. Lead is a neurotoxin, leading to impaired physical functioning and intellectual development. Recent research has shown that permanent damage is done by even low levels of lead poisoning (as low as 10 mcg/dl blood). Lead poisoning is asymptomatic and cumulative, so that lead can build up to toxic levels in blood, tissues, and bone with repeated exposures. Although average blood levels of lead have decreased since lead was banned from gasoline, much lead was deposited and still remains in the topsoil from this source. Toddlers and babies are at the highest risk for lead poisoning from regularly drinking formula made with lead-contaminated water and from playing on the floor and ground. Simple precautions to reduce the risk of toxic lead poisoning include: keeping children and pregnant women away from house renovations; limiting the amount of dirt tracked into the home; never using water from the hot tap for human ingestion; not storing acidic foods in ceramic or lead crystal containers; feeding children foods low in fat and high in calcium and iron to reduce lead absorption; washing children's hands before meals; washing all toys and pacifiers that go into mouths; and moving cribs and playpens away from mantels, windowsills, and doors. The Centers for Disease Control recommend testing all children six years old and under, and screening for lead poisoning at six months of age if lead contamination is suspected in the home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing samples of house tap water for lead for all families with young children. Suggestions are also given for ways to reduce risks if your house has lead-based paint, and resources are provided for lead poisoning prevention. The site at the Center for disease control returned 236 documents on Lead Poisoning. Roger

Lead is very dangerous. I think I read an article recently that indicated that lower levels than were thought to cause problems they found can be very hazardous, especially to very young children. Lead can cause brain damage. If there is chipped or peeling paint or paint dust in your house, and your child is young enough to be picking stuff off the floor and sticking it in his or her mouth, you probably want to do something about it. You should have the child checked for lead levels in the blood. It is a simple blood test and they don't take very much blood from the child to do it. I had a lot of construction done on my house when my daughter was little and had her tested. I seem to recall that they only did a little prick of her finger and squeezed out some blood. Not too traumatic.

You can check with the public health department in your county. I know that Alameda county has a low cost lead abatement program. Some friends had all the woodwork in their house repainted and their garage repainted and other areas of the house sanded and refinished with either a loan that only had to be repaid if they sold their house or was no interest or very low interest. I suggest you check with the county. They will be able to give you lots more information so you can make an informed decision.

FYI, because of the levels of lead in our environment, Twinkies may actually be good for you. They are preserved with EDTA, which is used to precipitate lead out of the blood for persons with very high lead exposure. Basically EDTA lets you pee away the lead. Anyway, take the problem seriously. Debbie