Lead is a neurotoxic metallic element that can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. Lead poisoning occurs only when too much lead accumulates in the body. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50% of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10%.
Left untreated, lead poisoning can damage many internal organs, including the kidney, nervous system and brain. Because of the possibility of permanent impairment, lead poisoning is particularly dangerous during the critical development periods of infants and young children under the age of 7 years.
It is commonly believed that lead poisoning affects only the urban poor. While exposure risk is higher in deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods, this disease occurs in all social and economic groups. Middle-class children can become exposed to lead dust during renovations of older homes. In any case, children under the age of 3 are especially at risk because they crawl or play at ground level. They also put everything into their mouths and their small bodies absorb and accumulate toxic lead amounts more quickly than adults.
False: Lead poisoning develops after repeated exposures to substances containing small amounts of lead, such as paint chips, dust, soil or eating from lead-glazed dishes. Since 1977, paints produced in the United States do not contain lead.
False: Pencil "lead" is now made of graphite, which contains no lead.
Lead-based paint chips, interior and exterior paint (before 1977)
Old window glaze
Soil, especially in dense urban areas
Dust and debris from older building renovation
Water boiled in leaded pots and pans
Foreign cosmetics: Kohl, Surina
Foreign cold medicines: Azarcon 93.5%, (also Rueda, Coral, Alarcon, Liga, Maria Luisa);
Pay-loo-ah 90% lead with arsenic; Yogran Guggulu
Soil from smelter area
Leaded gasoline fumes
Leaded soldering fumes
Leaded foil wine bottle caps
Leaded residue from tainted soil or air in some fruits and vegetables
Bone meal or dolomite supplements
Auto battery storage casings
Home smelting of lead shot and bullets
High blood pressure
Wrist or foot weakness
Children who are anemic
Children with learning or behavioral problems
Children who have been treated with foreign folk-medicines that contain high lead content
Children who have a sibling, housemate or playmate being followed or treated for an elevated lead level.
Children who live in or regularly visit a house with peeling or chipping paint built before 1960. This also includes day-care, pre-school or the babysitter's house.
Children living with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to lead. Lead dust can be brought home on the adult's clothes and contaminate a child's environment.
Children living near environmental sources of lead, such as battery manufacturing plants, lead smelters, battery recycling plants or other lead industries
Contact your physician to request a blood test specifically for lead levels. According to a statement released by the Center for Disease Control, data indicate some adverse effects have been documented in children with blood levels as low as 10 mcg/dl of whole blood. Call your local health department to see if your child is eligible for free testing through your local Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP).
Yes, effective treatments to remove lead from the body are available through your physician. First, the blood is tested and, if the levels are too high, treatment can be started. A recent study demonstrated that a child's I.Q. could improve if blood lead levels are lowered by medical treatment.
Fortunately, the incidence is low. Compared to the East Coast, California is a relatively new state. Most of the buildings are relatively new, thanks to the new home building trends of the last 20-25 years. California does not have the areas of concentrated industry that is seen on the East Coast. But we can never have false confidence that lead poisoning does not exist. If you have concerns, speak to your physician.
Have your home checked by a qualified inspector. Several kits that test for the presence of lead in various sources are now available. Local public health departments, government agencies and water quality agencies may offer programs, recommendations or additional information.
Lead paint removal should be done only by trained, certified professionals who are experienced in working with hazardous materials and special equipment.
If lead paint has been found in your house, eliminate contaminated dust by using a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Damp-mop floors and clean other surfaces with a cloth or sponge that will not be re-used on dishes, eating, drinking or cooking utensils.
Block painted windowsills and moldings with heavy furniture to keep children away.
Install vinyl siding over exterior lead painted surfaces.
Plant grass for dust control.
Reduce children's contact with soil if your house was built before 1978 or is near a major highway.
Plant bushes near exterior walls to keep children away.
Test your water for lead safety through recommendations from local water suppliers or government agencies.
Run tap water for 60 seconds before using it whenever the water may have been standing awhile.
Use cold water for drinking, cooking and making infant formula because it carries less lead. (Boiling the water concentrates the lead.)
Check pottery, china and leaded glassware for lead content.
anytime, anyplace in California
California Poison Control System
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This page last updated June 1999
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