The most significant source of lead exposure today is in lead-based paint. If this paint is scraped, sanded, or burned, it releases the lead into the air where it can enter the lungs of the people nearby. Lead dust can also come from contaminated soil that is tracked inside the house from exterior sources.
Most homes built before 1970 contain paint that has high levels of lead. If you are not sure whether your house contains lead-based paint, you can purchase a home test kit or contact your local health department for information on agencies that can help you test your home.
When lead paint is in good condition, it should be left alone. It does not pose a danger unless it begins to crack or creates dust. If you have lead based paint in your home, do not try to remove it yourself. Scraping or sanding can create large amounts of lead-filled dust and can quickly cause lead poisoning. Call in a professional to correct problems or remove the paint. You and your family (especially children and pregnant women) should leave the home until the work and clean up are finished.
Do not burn any painted wood, particularly wood that was used in house construction prior to the 1970s. If the paint has lead in it, the burning may release the lead into the air.
Soil can also contain high amounts of lead that came from buildings whose exteriors were painted with lead-based paint or from fumes of cars using gasoline that contained lead. Be careful not to track dirt into your home because this could increase your lead exposure. Use door mats to wipe your feet or take off your shoes when you enter a home. Have children play in sand or grass instead of dirt and try to keep them from eating dirt.
Because lead generally travels as dust, it is important to keep living areas dust free, particularly bedrooms, playrooms, and other areas where babies or children are. Floors, window ledges, and all chewable sources (cribs, toys, etc.) should be cleaned frequently. It’s also important to wash toys and stuffed animals regularly to get rid of any dust that may accumulate. Children should wash their hands frequently, particularly before meal times.
People who work in construction, demolition, painting, with batteries or radiators may be exposed to lead at work. To decrease further exposure and to prevent bringing the lead home, you should change your clothes before you go home and wash those clothes separately.
Some containers can also use lead. Do not store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware or old potter. The printing on some plastic bags can contain lead, so be sure to keep the printing on the outside of the bag if you reuse bags to store or carry food.
In addition to preventing exposure to lead, you can minimize its effects for you and your family by following a healthy diet. Eating enough iron and calcium can help children (and adults) absorb less lead.