Photograph of a newly painted building exterior of an older home with small children present. Was lead paint left scattered on the ground in the play area?. Lead Hazards in buildings, Dust, Paint, Water
General Advce, Lead Testing Procedures, Lead Poisoning Illnesses

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Lead poisoning hazard sources around buildings: this series of articles describes the sources of lead in the environment (air, water, soil, food, buildings, paint, toys, jeweler, pottery, other products) and the levels and effects of lead in humans and in other animals.

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What is the Exposure Limit for Lead levels in blood?

Photograph of a lead water pipe providing water service to a home in New York (C) Daniel FriedmanThis website includes articles detailing how to find, test for, recognize, and reduce lead hazards in buildings and in our environment.

Lead in the environment is a health hazard, particularly to children. While lead levels in children in the U.S. have dropped, this environmental contaminant continues to be a concern. This article provides an overview of and links to more in-depth articles about the common lead sources, risks, and steps to take.

There is no safe threshold for lead levels in blood for developing children. Any amount is considered a hazard, particularly to children. [Paraphrasing Ref. #2 below.]

How Does Lead Enter the Human Body?

Lead enters the body by ingestion (eating paint chips or for toddlers, lead dust off of building surfaces, or drinking water with high lead levels), or by breathing lead contaminated dust such as during building renovations and paint stripping.

Researchers have studied lead in building dust and house dust extensively. For example, Fergusson (1984 and later) and with Kim et als. (1993) report that lead is not alone among heavy metals, reporting on concentrations and sources of cadmium, copper, lead and zinc in house dust in New Zealand.

What are the Sources of Lead in buildings & of Lead in People's Bodies

Photograph of a newly painted building exterior of an older home with small children present. Was lead paint left scattered on the ground in the play area?.While many articles and laws have identified on lead-based paint as an important lead hazard source in buildings, there are other sources of lead in the environment that affect people and the crops or animals they consume.

The New York State Department of Health points out that "...The most common cause of lead poisoning is dust and chips from old paint. However, some non-paint sources, though less common, can cause severe cases of lead poisoning." and goes on to list the following common sources of lead in and around buildings: paint, dust, soil, drinking water, air, Folk medicines, ayurvedics, and cosmetics, Children's jewelry and toys, Workplace and hobbies, Lead-glazed ceramics, china, leaded crystal, pewter, Imported candies or foods, Imported food in cans, Firearms with lead bullets, Mini-blinds, Other common sources of lead (car batteries, radiators, some inks, etc.), Consumer Products. [29]

Below we provide added details about these and other lead contaminant sources.

  • Airborne lead-containing soil & dust or lead emissions at highways and fields along highways - see LEAD in AIR, EMISSIONS STANDARDS as well as lead-containing soils around buildings due to stripping of lead paint.

    The New York Times reported in 2011 that airborne lead-containing dust as well as volatile and particulate lead emissions in smoke or exhaust may be deposited at high levels around and near battery recycling centers, particularly at facilities such as those in Mexico that receive batteries from the U.S. and that are not adequately regulated. [1]
  • Lead Enviro-Scare: what is the environmental and home resale impact of lead paint or other lead in buildings
  • Lead based paint used indoors and outdoors. Lead paint on indoor surfaces becomes a lead hazard, especially to children, in the form of lead dust (raising & lowering lead-painted window sashes), direct contact by sticky little fingers, renovation and remodeling activities[8], and in buildings in poor condition, PICA - the eating of lead paint chips or peelings.

    See the   Lead Based Paint and  Lead Paint Surveys in this article introduce this lead contamination source; details are at LEAD CONTAMINATION HAZARDS in the HOME.

    See LEAD PAINT REMOVAL TROUBLES for a case report of improper handling of dust and debris during lead paint removal.
  • Lead-containing jewelry, pottery, and toys -   Lead Toys, Jewelry in this article discusses this source. See LEAD CONTAMINATION HAZARDS in the HOME for additional advice. See LEAD TEST KIT for HOME USE for a simple test kit for lead on building surfaces, pottery, toys, etc. For potential health hazards associated with exposure to artists materials for those working with ceramics, such as clays, glazing compounds, and pigments, see Arts & Crafts materials, hazards & toxicity
  • Airborne lead particles due to use of leaded gasoline in vehicles or other gasoline-driven motors and equipment - LEAD in AIR, EMISSIONS STANDARDS. While the prohibition of use of leaded gasoline has reduced the addition of lead to the environment from these sources, soil and dust may already be contaminated in some areas.
  • Lead in drinking water from lead plumbing or from the water supply itself. Lead in water is introduced below in this article at Lead Plumbing Lead in Water.

    For details on how to test for and remove lead from drinking water, including advice about test procedures to avoid missing or over-stating a lead in water problem, see LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS and see LEAD in WATER, ACTION LEVELS and LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE - Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water.

    You cannot see, smell, or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
  • Drinking Water Lead Contamination -- Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder. Also see LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS

    Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.

    Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.

  • The job as a source of lead poisoning -- If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your clothes separately from the rest of your family's.

  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.
  • Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air.
  • Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
  • Folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta" and "azarcon" used to treat an upset stomach.

Lead in Garden Hoses Used for Drinking Water

Garden hose for water hookup (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Is there lead in your garden hose? People may be inclined to drink water from a garden hose for several reasons: it's available, you're hot, outdoors, thirsty, or you are priming a well pump (WELL PUMP PRIMING PROCEDURE) or making an emergency water hook-up (DRINKING WATER EMERGENCY SOURCES) to a neighbor's house because your water supply has been lost (WATER PRESSURE PUMP REPAIR GUIDE)
  • Watch out: don't assume that the interior of a garden hose is sanitary or that water run through an ordinary garden hose is safe to drink. Also some garden hoses contain lead - do not drink water from a garden hose unless you know that yours is not a lead-containing hose. If you are purchasing a new garden hose, check the label.
  • Some garden hose product labels indicate that the hose is safe for drinking. Others may indicate that the hose should not be used for drinking. Unfortunately still other hoses are simply not labeled - we won't know about any chemical or lead hazards from drinking from such a hose without testing.
  • The lead hazard in a garden hose, as with possible lead hazards from lead plumbing or lead-solder-based copper pipe connections, depends on several variables including how long water has been resting inside the hose (longer absorbs more lead if lead is present), on the chemistry of your water supply (more aggressive may leach out more lead), and of course on the lead levels in the source: hose, pipe, or somewhere else.
  • If you are in any doubt about the cleanliness of a garden hose being used for well pump priming or for an emergency water supply connection between buildings, sanitizing the hose or the plumbing system after it has been used.

What is the level of Risk from Lead Toys, Lead-containing Jewelry, & Other Sources of Lead?

Lead surface test in process (C) Daniel Friedman

  • Pottery, Ceramic, Porcelain, China. Some pottery products used lead in the glazing including dishes and cups - don't use these for food or drink.
  • Toys containing lead in metal (my old toy soldiers and cars) and toys painted with lead-based paint - see references below from the toy industry on lead in toys.
  • Jewelry containing lead or lead paste -- see references below for the CPSC SOP
  • Alternative medicine products sold within some cultural groups: litargirio - per the Brody article [Ref.4].
  • Unusual foods: salty fried grasshoppers from Mexico - per the Brody article (Ref.3).
  • Lead contamination on streets and in street water runoff, a residue from prior use of leaded gasoline
  • also see the U.S. CPSC Document 426 at reference #3 below.

A Summary of Lead Based Paint Hazards from the US CPSC & the US EPA

Since lead paint was banned in 1978, and since lead was a very common additive in paints (for whiteness and flexibility), it's a reasonable guess that any older home built before (or perhaps slightly after) 1978 that has painted surfaces has some lead paint present -- unless all of the old paint was removed.

Photograph of old paint on a historic building, paint is likely to be a source of lead contamination on the soils below.Painting over lead-containing painted surfaces is not a fix as lead can leach through new coatings or be released during renovations. According to the Brody article [Ref. 4], the National Safety Council says that leaded paint con be found in

  • homes built before 1940 - in about two thirds of these buildings
  • homes built between 1940 and 1960 - in about half of these homes
  • homes built between 1960 and 1978 - in a smaller number of these homes.

Watch out: OPINION - DJF: Although lead-based paint was no longer sold after 1978, that does not mean that someone may not have had older lead-based paint and used it after 1978. So don't rule out the possibility of lead in paint in or on buildings painted at least for a few years after 1978.

The principal hazards from lead-based paint indoors include

  • peeling paint chips and children who eat them - PICA
  • building demolition or renovation work that contaminates the interior with lead-containing dust from paint removal or demolition
  • sliding casement lead-painted window sashes up and down, which may produce lead-containing dust on the window sill where it is picked up and ingested by toddlers whose stick fingers grasp the sill and then go into their mouth

Lead-based paint outdoors is a potential hazard as well. Renovations and paint stripping or sanding make a lot of lead paint dust or lead paint chips which may not only form an immediate hazard to people present, but may also contaminate the soil and form a hazard later for children who play there. Soil tests for lead are available.

A List of Choices of Methods for Lead Paint Surveys

  • X- Ray Florescence (XRF) for lead paint surveys: Lead paint surveys for buildings are provided by people who have both training and special equipment for this purpose using X- Ray Florescence (XRF). A professional uses a (very costly) X-ray inferometer which permits sampling of building surfaces by bouncing x-rays through the surface.

    This equipment can detect lead based paint which has been painted-over, and is quite accurate. Standards may vary by state but for example in Maryland, paint with more than 0.7 milligrams per square centimeter of surface area sampled is considered to be lead paint. - Chauncey Sage, LEHA, Hudson Valley NY[9]

    A building survey for lead paint may cost about as much as a professional home inspection. OPINION: any old house that has old paint on it almost certainly has lead paint present. I would not order a "presence/absence" lead paint test. But in some circumstances it may be useful to order a "lead abatement" survey which surveys the building interior and exterior, identifies the location of lead paint, and makes recommendations by specific area: leave alone, paint-over, or remove.
  • Chemical Swab spot tests for lead paint identification are available using sodium sulfide or other chemicals. OPINION: chemical swabs that some home inspectors use for "lead testing" are junk science and are so unreliable that they should not be used. We are informed that chemical tests for lead in paint give both false positives and false negatives.
  • Laboratory analysis of paint scrapings: functional and accurate if proper lab procedures are used; however be sure that paint chips or scrapings are individually packaged and identified, and that the samples collected accurately represent important possible areas of lead reservoirs on the building being tested.
  • Forensic microscopy for lead paint identification: special procedures can identify lead paint from very small quantities using micro chemical techniques pioneered by Chamot and Mason. While we have duplicated this process in our forensic laboratory, it is unlikely to be cost-justified for building surveys and is probably better reserved for specialized building forensic cases.
  • Watch out for environmental testing and cleanup that are not performed by qualified experts. Details & examples of what can go wrong are at ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete and ASBESTOS REMOVAL CERTIFICATIONS.

What is the Level of Risk from Lead Plumbing & Lead in Water?

Photograph of a lead water pipe providing water service to a home in New York (C) Daniel FriedmanLead may be in water from the actual water supply well (unusual) or may enter water from lead water supply mains or entry laterals from the street, or from lead-solder used for copper pipe connections.

Sources of lead in water

The degree to which water picks up lead from these sources varies quite a bit, and depends on the amount of actual lead surface to which the water is being exposed and the contact time of water to lead.

So water that sits in a lead water entry main overnight has a pretty high lead content while water that enters a building after the lines have been flushed usually has a very low lead content.

Corrosivity of water affects lead levels

The chemistry of the water and disinfectants added to it can affect the corrosivity level of water. More corrosive or "aggressive" water picks up more of whatever metals it contacts. Since there are easy things you can do to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water a treatment system is not the only choice for reducing this hazard.

See LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE and for more details on lead in water, also see LEAD in WATER, ACTION LEVELS


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