Fact Sheet: Lead

Q: What is lead? What are the sources of lead?

A: It's a metallic element that is widely dispersed in the environment. It was used in house paint until 1978, when it was banned. It was also widely used in gasoline, but has since been removed. Near major traffic corridors, soils may be contaminated from the long-term use of leaded gas. Also, water is a potential source of lead. This is usually from the lead in solder, fixtures, and piping in the home. There is no lead in a "lead" pencil.

Q: Why should I be concerned about lead?

A: Young children (up to about six years old) are especially at risk of ingesting lead contaminated dust or paint chips. Small amounts of lead dust, consumed regularly, can cause delayed development, reading and learning problems, lowered IQ, hyperactivity and discipline problems. Larger doses can cause high blood pressure, anemia, and kidney and reproductive disorders in both kids and adults. Lead accumulates in the body and its effects are irreversible.

Q: How do I know if my children have been exposed to lead?

A: If you live in an older home, your children may be at high risk. All children up to age six should be tested for lead in their blood. Ask your public health department about testing programs for children.

Q: How do I know if my home has significant concentrations of lead?

A: An estimated 57 million U.S. homes have at least some lead paint. Older homes are at greater risk. Prior to 1950, paint contained as much as 50 percent lead. Paint in good condition poses little risk. Paint that is peeling or on deteriorating surfaces is especially risky. Dust created from remodeling an older home can also be a source of lead. Do-it-yourself kits are available at home centers, paint stores, and ceramic supply stores. Their sensititvity is limited though. Also, it may be difficult to get accurate readings on surfaces with multiple levels of paint. For more accurate information, have a professional detection service conduct a lead-based paint risk assessment.

Q: Should I be concerned if my home has lead?

A: Yes, especially if you have young children in your home. But, it's important to distinguish between presence of lead paint and a lead paint hazard. Lead paint in good condition may not pose a hazard until sometime in the future -- say, if you plan to scrape the paint or remodel. Then the paint dust will pose a hazard.

Q: If lead is detected in my home, what should I do?

A: The simplest way to control exposure to lead is through frequent damp mopping to control dust. (Vacuuming can disperse dust particles back into the room.) Pick up loose paint chips with duct tape. Frequent washing of your child's hands and toys will also reduce exposure. It's important not to sand or scrape paint or do any other activities that generate dust. Eliminating lead dust hazards is complex and should only be done by professionals. Measures include replacing windows and moldings, paint removal, and covering surfaces with materials such as wallboard. Children should be removed until the site "clears" inspection.