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The Dangers of Lead

Lead is highly toxic, and can cause a variety of health problems if inhaled or swallowed in high enough doses. Since the 1980s, federal regulations in the United States have greatly reduced lead exposure by phasing out leaded gasoline, reducing the use of lead pipes in household and commercial plumbing, and banning or limiting the use of lead in many consumer products, such as household paint.

Still, there's some residual lead in the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency offers these tips on where lead is found and how to avoid it.

Where Lead Is Found

Paint: Before 1978, lead-based paint was used in many homes – both inside and outside. If lead-based paint is in good condition, it is usually not a hazard, but peeling or chipping paint could be dangerous. Dust created during the renovation of an old house often contains high levels of lead.

Soil: Lead from exterior paint or other sources, such as leaded gasoline that was used in cars, can accumulate in the soil.

Drinking water: If lead pipes were used for plumbing, drinking water might have unhealthy levels of lead.

Containers: Lead crystal or pottery with a lead-based glaze could leave lead in food or liquids. Experts recommend that wine and other beverages not be stored in lead crystal decanters.

Children and Lead Poisoning

Children are more sensitive to lead poisoning than adults because they are still growing, so their bodies absorb more lead. Those who are 6 years old or younger are most at risk. Young children often put things in their mouths, and some of these objects – such as toys, furniture, or railings — can be covered in lead dust from contaminated dirt or chipped paint.

Lead poisoning in children that goes undetected can lead to slowed growth, hearing problems, behavioral and learning problems. If you think your child might have been exposed to high levels of lead, consult a doctor about getting a simple blood test.

Adults and Lead Poisoning

Adults with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from a variety of health problems, including nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, muscle and joint pain, and digestive difficulties. High levels of lead can also cause difficulties during pregnancy, including harm to the fetus, as well as other reproductive problems for both men and women.

How to Protect Your Family

If you think your home has high levels of lead, get it tested to find out.

Wash children's hands frequently, and keep play areas clean. Keep young children from chewing on painted surfaces, such as windowsills.

Make sure to clean up paint chips, and keep floors, windowsills and other surfaces free of dust that might contain lead. Use a damp sponge or cloth to clean, and rinse it thoroughly when you're done.

Try to keep contaminated soil out of the house by cleaning or removing shoes.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

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