Learn about lead effects in homes

By Ling-Mei Wong

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Lead is a heavy metal commonly found in paint on the inside and outside of houses built before 1978. The effects of lead poisoning can be severe, harming children and adults alike. Children are most at risk because lead can permanently harm their developing bodies.

In 1978, the United States banned lead from paint. Lead paint is found in almost all homes built before then, which affects many old Massachusetts’ homes. Lead can also be found in pipes, glass and pottery.

Effects of lead poisoning

Children under age six face the greatest risk from lead poisoning, as it can affect the brain, kidneys, nervous system, hearing and red blood cells. Even at low levels, it could stunt growth and result in development problems. Young children are most at risk because they tend to put objects in their mouth and absorb more lead.

However, adults are not immune to lead poisoning. While they are less likely to lick things about the house, they could still breathe in lead dust, touch objects covered in lead dust or eat paint chips or soil contaminated with lead.

“Many Chinese families like to grow vegetables or herbs in their backyards,” said Melody Tsang, Multi-Service Center coordinator at the Asian American Civic Association. “However, they do not realize that the soil may contain lead from paint on houses and inadvertently poison themselves.”

In pregnant women, lead can affect prenatal development. Adults with lead poisoning can suffer reproductive problems, high blood pressure, stomach problems, nerve problems, memory problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Someone with lead poisoning may look fine from the outside. The only way to find out is through blood testing. This is mandatory for Massachusetts children at least once a year from when they are nine months old until they turn four.

Understand lead risks

An owner of a Massachusetts home built before 1978 must have it inspected for lead if a child under six lives there. If lead risks are found, the house must be deleaded or made temporarily safe from serious lead threats for a maximum of two years.

However, lead-based paint is not always hazardous. If it is in good condition and not on a friction surface, such as a window, people should be unaffected.

Inspectors can detect if there is a lead in a home and where the sources of serious exposure are. They conduct a visual inspection to look for lead, use a sodium sulfide solution and scan with portable X-ray fluorescence machines. Finally, lab tests can confirm whether there is lead in the paint, dust or soil.

“Don’t try to do lead removal yourself,” Tsang said. “Painting over the problem areas with regular paint is ineffective and only a temporary measure.”

Home repairs are a common cause of lead poisoning. It is important to take precautions for possible lead exposure, particularly around old paint or plumbing pipes.

Steps to protect your family from lead hazards

If you think your home has high lead levels, the Environmental Protection Agency has the following recommendations:

1.      Get young children tested for lead, even if they seem healthy.

2.      Wash children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.

3.      Make sure children eat healthy, low-fat foods high in iron and calcium. Well-nourished children absorb less lead.

4.      Get your home checked for lead hazards.

5.      Regularly clean floors, window sills and other surfaces.

6.      Wipe soil off shoes before entering the house.

7.      Talk to your home seller or landlord about fixing surfaces with peeling or chipping paint.

8.      Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating. Call 1-800-424-LEAD or visit www.epa.gov/lead/nlic.html for guidelines.

9.      Don’t use a belt sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper or dry sandpaper on painted surfaces that may contain lead.

10.   Don’t try to remove lead-based paint yourself.


This is part three of an affordable housing series.


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This post is also available in: Chinese

About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England

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