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What is Lead?

Lead is a highly toxic metal and it is all around us. Lead was used for many years in paints and other products found in and around our homes. Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. There is a good chance that any home, building, school or day care center built before 1978 contains some lead paint.

Where is Lead Found?

The most common source of lead is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978. Lead also can be emitted into the air from industrial sources and leaded aviation gasoline, and lead can enter drinking water through plumbing materials.

It is also used in the production of batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), and devices to shield X-rays. Because of health concerns, lead from paints and ceramic products, caulking, and pipe solder has been dramatically reduced in recent years. The use of lead as an additive to automobile gasoline was banned in 1996 in the United States.

Lead is also a naturally occurring element. Natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 parts per million (ppm) and 400 ppm. Mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.

How Can People Be Exposed to Lead?

Children

Lead is dangerous to children because babies and young children often put their hands and other objects that can have lead dust on them in their mouths. Also, children's growing bodies absorb more lead than adult bodies do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk. Children of some racial and ethnic groups, and those living in older housing, are disproportionately affected by lead.

Pregnant Women 

Pregnant women can be exposed to lead by spending time in areas where lead-based paints are deteriorating into lead dust that they then breathe in. Likewise, eating and drinking from dishes or glasses that contain lead water, or using certain folk remedies to which lead is intentionally added can cause exposures to lead. In addition, working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure.

Adults

Adults are also susceptible to lead exposure. This may be from:

°  Breathing in lead dust, especially during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings.

°  Putting their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths.

°  Eating or drinking contaminated food or water or using certain folk remedies.

°  Working in a job or engaging in hobies where lead is used.

Possible Adverse Health Effects of Exposures to Lead

Lead exposure affects the nervous system and can cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and younger are most at risk.