Protecting families from health risks is something everybody wants to do, and within many homes, there are still risks of lead poisoning for children and adults alike. Lead has been banned in many household products and children’s toys, but it is still a problem that can affect families.
The holiday season is a big time for families, especially for children looking forward to the toys left by Santa under the tree, and while in 2008 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into law and requires toys to be tested for lead before being sold, there are still many toys with lead integrated into them. Then there are also the risks of homes that were built before the 1970s having lead in paints or other parts of the home, so understanding these risks better can help people protect themselves and their children.
Lead is an element on the periodic table (Pb) and was commonly used in a lot of materials for the last several centuries. It is a strong, and versatile material, but in the mid-1900s it was discovered that it was very dangerous to the human body. Lead in many forms cannot be properly processed by the body, and often cannot be filtered out, and therefore bioaccumulates over time. The more people are exposed to lead, the more they are affected by it in the form of lead poisoning. Today most aren’t commonly exposed to lead, but there is still a big risk, as even small amounts of lead in children have been found to be very detrimental to their growth.
As lead builds up in the body from whichever source exposes it, it can spread through the body in the bloodstream. Lead poisoning can cause anything from mild headaches at low exposure levels, to organ shutdown at larger exposures. Children when exposed to lead can exhibit behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. Severe lead poisoning can result in seizures, coma, and death. Pregnant women should also be particularly concerned about lead exposure, as the lead can transfer to the fetus, greatly damaging the viability of the pregnancy and stunting proper fetal development. This means that every family must understand the risks associated with lead, how to detect lead in their home or toys, and to avoid it at all costs.
While toys need to be tested for harmful substances as per the 2008 CPSIA, it can still be common for lead to be found within toys today, especially imported, or antique toys. In most cases, the lead used in these toys isn’t actually a hazard to children just touching and playing with them, but as many know, children do have a habit of putting things in their mouth, and this is where it starts to become dangerous. Many plastic toys, especially those that are made of soft plastics that retain their shape, often use lead integrated into the plastic to get that softness, even after the passing of the CPSIA law.
Further risks come when those soft plastics are exposed to sunlight, air, or detergents when cleaning them when the bonds between the plastic and lead break down. This resulted in lead dust forming on the outside of the plastic in the product, and that can expose children to dangerous levels of lead. Lead can also be mixed with metals like tin to form alloys when making children’s toys. Any product found to test too high in lead exposure risks will often be recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), so this should be checked for recalls before giving a child a potentially dangerous toy.
There are take-home lead testing kits available on the market today, but their ability to detect small amounts of lead is very limited, so only certified testing labs can produce truly accurate results. Most parents rely on CPSC testing and recall. For any parents concerned about potential lead exposure from a toy (particularly imported or antique toys that may fall outside of the CPSC scope), they should remove the toy from the child’s environment immediately. After removing further exposure, they should book an appointment with their child’s primary health care provider and get their opinion on the matter. In most cases, they may order a blood test, as lead can be detected in the blood. This test will give the health care provider the information needed to provide parents with further appropriate follow-up actions.
Older homes in particular can have many exposure points for the lead. Lead-based paint was very common in the early 1900s until about the 1980s when it was banned from household use. While painting on the walls is not a large concern for those in the home if it has been maintained, as soon as it gets damaged it can disperse lead particles into the air and onto high-touch surfaces, making it prime for exposure to adults and children alike. If homeowners are concerned about lead paint, they can call in a lead abatement company to remove the lead after test results showing positive results on lead have been received.
Older water pipes are also a concern for lead, as seen in cities like Flint, MI. Lead pipes went out of style in the mid-1900s, but older homes may still have them. These pipes should be replaced as soon as possible no matter the condition they are in.
Lead can also be found in the soil around homes, but this varies greatly, so homeowners could have their lawns tested for lead content if they are concerned. If lead is found in the soil around a home, then it’s very important to teach children and adults to clean off their boots and shoes before entering a home, to minimize the risk of lead making it into the home. Also, if the property uses well water, it should be tested for lead as well.
While there are ways to help cope with lead exposure, prevention of exposure is always the least damaging and best option. If a homeowner is concerned about lead exposure in their older home, calling in a professional lead abatement company to remove the lead in the home and surrounding soil and water can give them peace of mind that they are doing everything they can to protect their family and themselves from the dangers of lead.