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What you need to know about Lead Poisoning

Introduction to Lead Poisoning 

Lead is a highly toxic metal.  Lead poisoning occurs when lead accumulates in the body, usually after being inhaled or swallowed. Currently, lead poisoning is the nations #1 preventable environmental health problems facing young children.  Exposure to lead is not healthy for anyone, but is especially dangerous to children 6 years of age (72 months) and younger.  While exposure to lead may lead to a number of serious health issues, it is totally preventable.  The most important step to prevent lead poisoning is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. 

What are the Health Effects of Lead? 

There is no safe level of lead in the body.  Lead may cause learning and behavioral problems, as well as slow growth and development, making it hard for children to pay attention. Children are at greatest risk, especially those 6 years of age or under.  Unlike older children and adults, young children  have developing brain and nervous systems which makes them especially vulnerable to lead.  Also, teenagers and adults shed lead from their bodies far more easily than children do.  It is required in New Jersey to test children 6 years of age or under for lead. 

Lead in Paint 

Lead paint was used for many years because it made the paint extremely durable.  But, it was ultimately banned from paint in 1978 due to adverse health effects it has on humans, especially children up to 72 months.  Even so, many houses and buildings that were built prior to 1978 contain lead based paint. 

While many picture a child eating paint chips as the main exposure to lead, dust containing lead is the single greatest risk to children.   As children crawl and play on floors, their hands pick up lead dust, which they then ingest when they put their hands into their mouths.  Sources of lead  dust include lead based paint on Friction surfaces (ex: sliding windows) and impact surfaces (tight closing doors), which create minute amounts of dust over time; this dust can then be inhaled if it is disturbed or swallowed by children when they crawl through it and put their hands in their mouth.   

Another way that children are exposed to lead in paint is during and after renovations to the home that disturb lead based paint, such as sanding painted surfaces. 

Lead in Water 

While concerns of lead in water have recently been highlighted by the media, according to the NJ Department of Health, drinking water alone has not been associated with elevated blood lead levels.  But, when combined with other sources (such as dust containing lead), lead in drinking water may be enough to increase the chances of harmful health effects.  Infants who drink formula mixed with water containing lead are at a far greater risk.  Lead in drinking water usually comes from lead-based solder, brass or chrome faucets, and/or lead fittings within the home or building. 

As of 2016, all schools in NJ are required to test for lead in drinking water, and since 2017, all licensed child care facilities are required to test for the same.  A quick safety measure to prevent drinking lead in your water is to run your faucet for 1 minute in the morning prior to drinking.  This will purge the water that was standing in the pipes all night, which will contain the highest concentration of lead. 

Other Common Sources of Lead 

In addition to being found in paint and water, lead is often found in common items, such as: 

  • Spices: Foods and spices that are imported from other countries may contain lead.
  • Hobbies: activities such as shooting firearms and fishing (bullets and fishing sinkers contain lead).
  • Metal toys, glazed pottery, and ceramics that are imported items often contain lead (search “lead recalls” at Consumer Product Safety Commission, cpsc.gov , for their updated lists on what products they have found lead in).
  • Imported items such as health remedies, foods, spices, cosmetics, make-up used in religious ceremonies, often contain lead (again, check the CPSC often) 

How to Tell if Your House Has Lead 

If your home was built prior to 1978, it may contain lead based paint.  You can purchase lead paint test kits in box stores and online, or have a company test your home for lead based paint. 

If your home is older and you believe that it may have lead pipes or lead solder, a water test is available to test for the presence of lead.  Contact the Hillsborough Health Department for details on how to have your water tested for lead.

If you are doing home renovations and your home has lead based paint, either use a contractor that is certified to safely remove lead based paint, or if doing the work yourself, follow safety guidelines, such as sectioning off the area you are working with plastic sheeting to limit dust, using a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner, and wet mopping (Learn more at EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule Web Page). 

When purchasing faucets or having plumbing work done, make sure that all products used are certified Lead-Free.  Many products, including those purchased from box stores, contain lead. 

Guidance Tips to Reduce Your (and your family’s) Exposure to Lead 

  • If your home was built prior to 1978, you may want to have the paint tested for lead. 
  • Wash your, and your children’s hands frequently, to avoid unintentional exposure. 
  • Wet mop (rather than dry mop) any hard flooring. Dry mopping can put lead dust into the air and spread it throughout your house.  If you know, or suspect your house has lead based paint, use Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) as an additive to mop water.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended the use of TSP detergent to clean lead-contaminated dust from surfaces. 
  • Use a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner. HEPA filters will trap lead dust, while non-HEPA filters will spread it throughout the house. 
  • If your house has lead soldered water pipes, run your tap for several minutes each morning before ingesting the water. Also, consider having the pipes or solder replaced. 

Exposure to Lead in Hillsborough  Township 

While all of these are potential sources of exposure to lead, THE TWO MOST COMMON SOURCES OF LEAD EXPOSURE IN HILLSBOROUGH TOWNSHIP ARE LEAD DUST FROM OLD PAINT AND PRODUCTS PURCHASED FROM OTHER COUNTRIES (determined by actual determined routes of exposure from elevated blood lead levels).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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