Avoiding Lead In Your Home

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This page is about avoiding lead in your home. It is important to know how to reduce your family's exposure to lead.


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Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
September 11, 2008

Avoiding Lead In Your Home

Avoiding Lead In Your Home

If lead is found in your home, an experienced professional needs to be hired to remove it. Likewise, if you suspect lead a professional test is also important. However, there are more economical ways to avoid lead in homes that carry lower risks of lead contaminant.

What Is Lead?

Lead is a substance found in many older products, as well as the recent toy recalls in the United States. It affects everyone, but young children and developing fetuses are at the highest risk. Lead exposure affects the neurological system as well as the other systems of digestion and reproduction. Care must be taken to avoid lead exposure and to remove lead from homes.

Know Where to Look

By knowing where to look for lead in the home, you can establish your risk of lead levels. Anything painted before 1978 probably was painted with lead based paint. Soil can pick up lead from leaded gasoline (no longer used in most vehicles in the USA.) Some imported items still contain lead based products; choose children's items carefully.

How Can I Avoid It?

If you suspect high levels of lead in your home or if someone in your family experiences lead exposure symptoms, consult a professional and a doctor. For most homes, the risk is minor and can be eliminated efficiently and with minimal cost.

Old paint can be covered with new paint. Apply a strong primer and several coats of new, lead-free paint. This will not remove the lead from your home, but it will block the family's exposure to it. Maintain these new surfaces; don't let the new paint chip or peel to expose the old paint. This is only to be done on surfaces in good shape. Paint that is cracking, peeling, chalking, or otherwise deteriorating needs to be removed by a professional. Improper removal of lead paint can actually increase the family's risk of lead exposure.


If you're concerned about the lead in the soil, plant grass. Grass is an interim way to block the exposure of lead from your family. Build a sandbox for children to dig in rather than dirt.

Keep your home clean. Areas like windowsills need to be cleaned weekly with all-purpose cleaner to remove dirt that might be carrying lead. Wash rags used for cleaning dusty surfaces since lead contaminants can be transferred during the next cleaning if the dust isn't removed.

Keep the family healthy. People who have healthy diets absorb lead in smaller amounts. Diets especially high in calcium and iron are helpful in the prevention of lead poisoning.

While municipal water supplies don't usually contain lead, the pipes in your home might. Allow the water to run for 20 seconds before drinking it. Bathing and washing is safe since lead isn't absorbed through the skin. Only drink or cook with cold water; lead tends to bond better to the hot water from your pipes.


Watch for toy recalls. Immediately return toys which contain lead paint.

Take special caution when working with lead based activities such as pottery, glass making, or furniture refinishing. Know if local factories are exposing lead into the air or if your job might send you home with lead coated dust on your clothes.

The National Lead Information Center

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

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If you live in a home or an apartment building that was built before the early 1980's (or even worse one built before the 1920's), then there's a good chance your pipes are soldered with lead. Drinking water remains the second most-common source of lead poisoning in kids, after lead paint. Drinking water is usually contaminated in transport between the local water utility and your faucet via lead pipes in houses built before the 1920's, lead pipes serving as water mains connecting to homes, and lead solder used to join copper piping found in houses built between the 1950's and 1980's.


It only makes sense that water that sat overnight in those pipes would have a higher lead content than fresh water. So, the first time I use my water in the morning. I make sure to run the cold water for several minutes, so I now have fresh, clean water in my home's pipes. Running the cold water for several minutes means you are getting fresh water from the street and are not drinking the water that has sat in your pipes overnight. Don't do this with your hot water because the water comes from the hot-water tank and you'd not want to waste the electricity or gas.

I know it may sound like wastefulness to run your water for several minutes each morning, but if your kids are drinking it or you are making coffee or juice from it, it really makes a difference in taste and lead content. By the 1990's, lead had disappeared as a component of new plumbing, primarily replaced by PVC. Some of the chemicals used to make PVC, such as vinyl chloride and organotin compounds are also dangerous and it is possible, in some cases, for them to leach into the water carried by the pipes.


PVC pipes manufactured after 1977 are safer, but for safety's sake, run your water for several minutes each morning before drinking. You'll know you have run the water long enough when the water becomes colder.


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With all the recall notices here and elsewhere for toys etc., I would like to add that I read in the Los Angeles Times that the lead exposure in the paint in such toys is extremely limited.

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November 26, 2007

With all the lead turning up in toys this year, it is important to be aware of other sources of lead. Christmas light strands are almost always made with lead, even the new LED ones. California requires that they are marked with warnings so most of the new boxes will have this warning somewhere on the box.

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