Lead Poisoning and Health Risks

Lead Paint. westphalia / Getty Images

Risk factors for lead poisoning include living or spending substantial time in a home built before 1950 or in a home built before 1978. The distinction between the years is because the largest concentration of lead-based paint hazards are found in homes built before 1950.

But homes built between 1950 and 1978 still have a substantial amount of lead. In 1950, lead paint began being phased out, but it wasn’t banned until 1978.

If you live in an older home, you may be concerned about your kids’ exposure to lead. Learn about lead paint risks, laws, and safety.  

Lead Paint

Lead is a heavy metal that has been used for a long time. From pots and water pipes to cosmetics and paint, lead has been used since ancient times. It was added to gasoline to raise gasoline’s octane level. But lead was phased out of gas in 1996. But why was lead added to paint?

Lead can be used as a pigment. Lead carbonate, for example, is a white paint made from lead, vinegar, and carbon dioxide, and was once used to paint the White House. It was also used in many classical European oil paintings. Lead paint can also be made in other colors and is durable and water-resistant.

Unfortunately, lead is toxic. Lead has been harming and poisoning people for as long as it has been used. Like the phrase 'mad as a hatter,' which referred to mercury toxicity, another, 'crazy as a painter,' referred to the toxic effects of lead in paint.

Lead Paint Laws

The first laws about lead paint were enacted in the 1950s. These early laws banned lead paint in some cities. In 1971, the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act (LBPPPA) banned lead paint in Federal housing.

Laws from 1971 to 1973 also lowered the allowable lead content in paint. Lead was finally banned from use in interior and exterior house paint in 1978 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Amendments to the LBPPPA in 1973, 1987 and 1992 further worked to reduce the risk that kids would be poisoned by lead paint.

Lead Paint Risks

If your house was built after 1950 and you aren't remodeling it, then that likely wouldn't be as big a risk factor to another home that was being remodeled.

While homes built before 1950 and homes built between 1950 and 1978 might all have lead paint in them, it is the oldest homes that pose the biggest risk. That is because the oldest homes have the highest concentration of lead paint since lead did not begin being phased out until after 1950. In addition, an older home is more likely to be deteriorating, creating paint chips and lead-contaminated dust that can be ingested by younger children.

The lead concentration of the paint in homes built before 1950 is likely to be higher than in a "newer" old house, but your child may still be at risk if your house was built between 1950 and 1978.

When you remodel one of these homes, by adding on a new room, scraping off paint, or tearing down a wall, you may disturb lead paint and it may put your child at risk for lead poisoning.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your child should be tested for lead poisoning "if they live in or visit a home or child care facility with an identified lead hazard or a home built before 1960 that is in poor repair or was renovated in the past 6 months."

Lead Risks in Older Homes

In addition to lead paint, older homes can also put kids at risk because of older lead plumbing, causing elevated water lead levels. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead was used in pipes, water lines and fixtures until 1986.

But it isn't just old houses that put kids at risk. Old schools can put kids at risk too.

And surprisingly, legally "lead-free" plumbing materials in newer homes built until 2014 can be made up of 8% lead. That was reduced to just 0.25% by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2011.

Is Your Home Lead Safe?

To make sure your kids are safe from lead paint, if you live in an older apartment or house, built before 1978, you should either have an inspection for lead paint or a risk assessment for lead paint.

Your contractor or a qualified lead professional can help you keep your family safe when you are renovating your older home.

Keep in mind that children may also be at risk for lead poisoning if they play in the soil around an older home that may become contaminated with exterior lead-based paint. You can decrease this risk by not letting your kids play in the dirt around your home and washing their hands right away if they do.

Other risks for lead poisoning that parents often overlook can include:

  • Having a parent or family member that has a job or hobby that uses lead (making pottery and stained glass)
  • Using some folk remedies, such as Greta and Azarcon
  • Using old ceramic cookware, and some imported toys, candles, and cosmetics

In addition to screening and testing your children if they are high risk, other steps that you can take to reduce their risk of lead poisoning can include:

  • Discourage your child from chewing and eating non-food items (pica), such as dirt and paint chips.
  • Run the faucet for a few minutes before using cold water for cooking, drinking or preparing infant formula (this can help flush out the lead which can build up in sitting water).
  • Keep your child healthy and well-nourished, since being undernourished is a risk factor for lead poisoning.
  • Wash your child's hands after they have been playing outside, especially if they were playing in dirt.
  • Wet mop floors and surfaces to eliminate the lead dust that accumulates.
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Article Sources
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