More than 400,000 people a year die from exposure to lead, and even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems ranging from high blood pressure to respiratory problems to depression and even to reduced sperm count and miscarriage or still birth.
Children and older adults are specifically at high risk. Children younger than six can have their mental and physical development negatively affected. Even newborns who were exposed to lead before birth may be born prematurely, have lower birth weight and have slowed growth.
The primary causes for lead poisoning – specifically among children, are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings. And even though lead-based paints were banned in the United States in 1978 for homes, if you have an older home and you painted over the lead-based paint, there is still a risk. The ban on lead-based paint also applied to children’s toys and furniture.
Other sources of lead poisoning include soil, pottery, toys manufactured abroad, cosmetics and some herbal or folk remedies. People also can be exposed to lead and bring it home when they work in auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, construction, and other fields.
Some tips for preventing lead poisoning from these sources:
- In older homes, check for peeling paint
- Don’t let your kids play in soil
- Frequently wash hands and toys
- Remove shoes before entering the house
The other common way to be exposed to lead is through drinking water. There are three primary ways lead can be present in drinking water.
- The water entering your house from the water filtration plant contains lead. This happens infrequently, as water is treated with anti-corrosive agents as it leaves the plant to prevent the lead from leaching. However, this can occasionally occur, such as what happened in Flint, MI a few years ago.
- Welding solder and pipe fittings than connect the copper water piping inside your home can contain lead that can leach into the water. The solder used by plumbers since 1986 is lead-free, but if your home is older than that, solder may contain lead.
- Up until a few years ago, brass valves and fixtures installed in the home contained a small amount of lead. While that has been banned, your valves and fixtures could contain lead.
The ultimate solution is to replace any pipes, faucets, fixtures, and solder in your home that contain lead. If you do have these items in your home, however, there are some precautions you can take to greatly reduce risk:
- Install a “point of use” filter that removes lead from any faucet that you use for drinking or cooking. That even includes the bathroom sink where you brush your teeth. Make sure the filter is certified by an independent testing organization.
- Before using tap water for drinking and cooking, run cold water for two minutes.
- Drink or cook only with cold tap water. Warm or hot water could have higher amounts of lead.
- Use only bottled water for drinking and cooking.
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