Paint no longer has lead in it in the United States. Any building painted in the last thirty years or so has no lead paint on its walls due to proven health investigations on the heavy metal. Still, there is a risk of lead poisoning in old buildings if you’re not careful. Let’s go over how lead affects the body and how you can avoid lead exposure.
What is Lead and Why is it Dangerous?
Lead is a naturally-occurring heavy metal. Up until the 1970s, it was used to build pipes, as an additive in paint, and in many other manufacturing and construction scenarios. It can be found in all parts of our environment—the air, the soil, the water, and inside older buildings. Some types of industrial facilities still work with lead frequently, and the use of leaded gasoline can also increase your exposure. There are still lead-based paints out there, but for the most part, any new paint job will be done without the potentially deadly element.
Lead is dangerous because, in short, it’s toxic to human systems. There’s no way to extract lead from the bloodstream once it enters it, and lead levels can build up over time and cause sickness. The EPA cites children and pregnant women as particularly at risk to lead exposure and health defects, but anyone can suffer from lead poisoning. Children are affected more by lead poisoning because their bodies absorb more of the substance as they grow. Pregnant women are warned that lead exposure can lead to the poisoning of their fetuses.
How to Avoid Lead Poisoning
Most paints you find at the store won’t have lead, but check their compositions just to be sure. Sometimes remodeled homes may still have lead pipes or lead paint. Typically, the most common scenarios in which you’d be exposed to lead at home is if you have lead pipes; inhaling lead dust, which can settle in near industrial sites; breathing in or otherwise ingesting dust from lead paint; or even from trace amounts in the soil. If you think you have lead pipes or lead paint in your home but you’re not sure, get it tested. Plumbers will be able to tell you that your pipes are lead or have trace amounts of lead in them, and painting professionals will be able to tell if you have lead paint in your home.
Lead can lead to various symptoms in children, pregnant women, and adults. Children exposed to lead have suffered problems like behavior and learning disabilities, lower IQs and hyperactivity, slowed or stunted growth, hearing problems, and anemia. Pregnant women could have problems with their fetuses such as premature birth and slowed growth rate. Everyone else can see problems such as cardiovascular effects like hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems in both men and women.
It pays to make sure you’re not at risk of lead poisoning. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to test your home for sources of lead exposure. Take the time to find out if you’re at risk of lead poisoning.