We do our best to make our homes as comfortable, healthy and safe as possible. But if you live in an older home, there may be dangers that you can’t see. Asbestos is one concern, but lead may be an even bigger issue for homeowners. The CDC estimates that there are about 24 million homes in the United States with deteriorated lead paint.
Lead-based paint wasn’t banned until 1978. If your home was built before then, there’s almost certainly lead paint somewhere on your walls. And when the paint starts to deteriorate, it can cause some serious health issues.
What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead is a toxic, strong poison that can cause serious health issues and even death. Most people assume the paint on their walls is the only source of lead they have to worry about, but this metal can also be found in:
- The paint of old toys
- Gasoline products sold outside of the U.S. and Canada
- Contaminated dust
Lead poisoning can take months or years to develop, and it can cause both mental and physical impairment. Young children are at the greatest risk of developing lead poisoning because they may put lead-containing objects in their mouths.
Lead can have serious and detrimental effects on children because their nervous systems and brains are still developing. While the poisoning can be treated, the damage cannot be reversed.
What Causes Lead Poisoning?
Lead poisoning can be caused by a number of things, but only occurs if the metal is ingested in some way. Just breathing in dust that contains lead can cause poisoning. Typically, gasoline and paint are the culprits, especially in older homes. Other sources of lead include:
- Pipes, which can contaminate drinking water
- Art supplies
- Certain types of eyeliners
- Storage batteries
- Soil contaminated by house paint or car exhaust
- Bullets and fishing sinkers
- Jewelry and pottery
- Toys painted outside of the U.S. or before 1976
Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning can cause a variety of symptoms that affect multiple parts of the body. Poisoning builds up over time with exposure to small amounts of lead. People rarely develop poisoning from a single exposure or ingestion of lead. Repeated exposure to the metal can cause:
- Aggressive behavior
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory loss
- Numbness in extremities
- High blood pressure
- Loss of developmental skills in kids
- Kidney dysfunction
Children can suffer intellectual disabilities due to lead exposure because their brains are still developing. Symptoms may include:
- Low IQ
- Growth delays
- Behavioral problems
- Learning difficulties
- Hearing problems
- Poor grades in school
High, toxic doses of lead can cause serious symptoms, including:
- Severe cramping and abdominal pain
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms of severe lead exposure should not be ignored. Call emergency services immediately.
What Can You Do to Prevent Poisoning?
If you’re worried about exposure to lead, there are steps you can take to try and prevent poisoning.
Get Your Home Tested
First, get in touch with your local health department to find out about testing the paint and dust in your home for lead.
Protect Your Children
Make sure the kids don’t have access to any surfaces with peeling paint. If necessary, create a barrier between living areas and sources of lead. While perform environmental clean-up or renovating the home, make sure that your kids are not present in the home. Pregnant women should also be kept out of the home until renovations are complete.
Replace Lead Pipes
If your home has lead pipes, consider replacing them if your budget allows. Replace failing sewer pipes as soon as possible to avoid exposure to lead-contaminated sewage. If you don’t want to dig up your yard, trenchless sewer repair will allow you to repair the issue with minimal damage to your landscaping. If you can’t replace the pipes, run cold water for at least a minute before using it. Do not cook or make baby formula with hot tap water.
Keep Your Home Clean
To minimize exposure to lead-contaminated dust, make an effort to keep your home dust-free. Use a damp cloth to wipe dusty surfaces, furniture and windowsills. A damp cloth will capture the dust instead of allowing it to re-enter the air where it can be inhaled.