Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

Get the Lead Out!  
Learn how to protect your family from the hazardous effects of lead.


Holiday Spending
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Pets and Salmonella
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Get the Lead Out!
Learn how to protect your family from the hazardous effects of lead.

Gerber Life Family Times Archive

ImageOne of the many things infants, toddlers, and young children have in common is their propensity for putting things in their mouths. If something can be picked up with those little fingers and hands, chances are it will eventually end up in the mouth for a thorough taste-test. For the most part, this oral investigation is harmless and helps emphasize the fact that some things taste good, others definitely don't. There are, however, a few instances where things that make their way into your child's mouth can lead to some serious health issues. Lead is one of those dangerous substances that can cause problems.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that, given exposure, can cause a wide variety of adverse health effects in both children and adults. Although much has been done in recent decades to alert people to the dangers of lead in the environment and their homes, as recent as 2004, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimated that more than four hundred thousand children under the age of six had elevated blood lead levels. Lead is a potent toxin and the NSC states that all it takes is for lead dust equivalent to a single grain of salt to register an elevated blood lead level in a child.

Although the dangers of lead in the environment have been known for decades and much has been done to eliminate it, it still exists in and around homes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the primary sources for lead exposure for most children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust, and lead contaminated residential soil. Although the federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, many homes and apartments built before 1978 still contain lead-based paint. The EPA notes the following sources of possible lead contamination in the home environment:

  • Interior and exterior paint of homes built prior to 1978. This includes both public and private housing in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.
  • In the soil around a home. Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and from other sources such as the past use of leaded gas in cars. This is particularly true in areas the lie close to heavily traveled roadways (freeway, highways, etc.)
  • Household dust (Dust can pick up deteriorating lead-based paint or contaminated soil can be tracked into the home.)
  • Drinking water. Home plumbing may have been done with lead pipes or lead solder. You cannot see, smell, or taste lead. If you are in doubt, have your water tested for lead.
  • Old painted toys and furniture.
  • Foods and liquids stored in lead-glazed pottery or lead crystal.
  • Hobbies that cause exposure or use lead such as furniture refinishing, pottery, and stained glass.
  • On the job. If your work is in an industry that releases lead into the air, it can be brought into your home on your skin and clothes.

ImageA study conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that 38 million housing units (40%) contained lead-based paint and that lead-based paint was present in 28% of childcare centers. Elevated levels of lead in the body can cause serious problems in both adults and children. However, children under the age of six are at particular risk because their brains and central nervous systems are still developing and they are the most likely to have the hand-to-mouth contact with lead. The EPA notes that children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:

  • Behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity)
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Slowed growth

Adults with exposure to lead can suffer from:

  • Difficulties during pregnancy
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nerve disorders
  • Reproductive problems (both men and women)

Lead is a particular danger to pregnant women and their babies. The NSC notes that lead is stored in the bone where it can remain for decades. Pregnancy can cause the lead (from previous childhood exposure) to be released from the bones where it can be easily transferred to the fetus since lead can cross the placenta.

If you suspect that your home may have lead hazards, the EPA recommends the following actions to reduce the risk to your family:

  • Clean up paint chips immediately. Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard. However, peeling, chipping, or cracking lead-based paint is hazardous and requires immediate attention.
  • If you rent, notify your landlord of chipping or peeling paint.
  • Clean floors, window frames, windowsills, and other surfaces weekly with a mop, sponge, or paper toweling using warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or cleaner specifically made for lead.
  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning suspect areas.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash toys, stuffed animals, bottles, and pacifiers regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing windowsills or other painted surfaces. Lead-based paint is a danger on surfaces that children can chew or those that get worn or bump and rub together. Such areas include windows, windowsills, doors, doorframes, stairs, railings, banisters, porches,and fences.
  • Wash children's hands often, especially before meals and before naps and bedtime.
  • Avoid tracking soil into the home by cleaning or removing shoes before entering the home.
  • Make certain children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium (such as dairy products and spinach) because children with good diets absorb less lead into their systems.

ImageIf you wish to test for lead in and around your home, you can hire a technician who will take samples throughout your home and send them to a laboratory for analysis. You may also purchase a home dust sampling kit and do the sampling yourself. The National Safety Council offers a lead dust test kit that includes everything necessary to test your home along with detailed instructions and a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope to send samples for laboratory analysis. To permanently deal with lead hazards, you will have to hire the services of a certified lead abatement contractor. Such individuals are trained in the proper methods of containing, removing, and disposing of lead contaminated materials and can do so safely without releasing lead contaminated dust into your household environment.

So with a watchful eye and some precautionary measures, you can do your part to "get the lead out" and make certain your family never encounters the ill effects of lead.

Always address any health concerns or questions to your family physician or healthcare provider.

National Safety Council—
United States Environmental Protection Agency—
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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