Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable health problem. Lead is a highly toxic metal that has been commonly used in many household, industrial and automobile products—such as paint, solder, batteries, brass, car radiators, bullets, pottery, etc. Too much lead in the body, or lead poisoning, can cause serious and permanent health problems. Children and pregnant women are at special risk. Lead poisoning can be prevented when homeowners and tenants know how to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead dust, chipping or peeling lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil—and when they know what danger signs to look for.
Dust from lead paint is a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children. In 1978, lead was banned from house paint by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 70% of Vermont homes were built before 1978 and likely contain lead. Over time, lead paint on surfaces crumbles into invisible dust, especially from opening and closing doors and windows. Even if the home has been repainted since 1978, the opening and closing of doors and windows can release lead dust from the original lead paint.
Young children are commonly exposed to lead by swallowing it. Lead dust clings to hands, toys and other objects that children put in their mouths. Children may eat, chew or suck on lead-painted objects such as windowsills, toys or furniture.
Children, pregnant women and adults can be exposed to lead during renovation projects or whenever lead-based paint is improperly sanded, scraped or burned. There are two primary ways lead exposure can occur from these activities. One is from breathing in lead dust. The other is from swallowing the lead dust if it gets onto hands and then into mouths. This commonly occurs through eating, drinking or smoking or from hand-to-mouth behavior in children. Learn more about how to reduce lead exposure through lead-safe work practices and lead-safe cleaning.
Unsafe work practices that disturb lead-based paint will create lead hazards (see Section 2.2.28). Creation of lead hazards in any kind of building or structure will result in compliance and enforcement proceedings and may cause a lead cleanup project that will require you to hire a Vermont-licensed lead abatement contractor.
Swallowing lead dust that is on hands, toys or other objects is the most common way that children are exposed to lead. Keeping your home free of lead dust can help prevent lead poisoning.
Soil may be contaminated with lead along the side of older homes from lead-based paint flaking off and near roadways or driveways from car exhaust when leaded gasoline was widely used. Small amounts of lead may occur naturally in soil. Some lead contamination comes from industrial sources like lead battery manufacturing plants or brass foundries. This soil can be tracked into the house on shoes. It is very easy for a child to swallow some of this contaminated dirt while playing outside. To prevent lead poisoning, children should never play in bare soil.
Lead has been commonly used in many older household items and consumer goods—such as paint, furniture, jewelry, glassware and dishes, leaded crystal, brass, pewter, ceramics, tools, toys and other items.
Even in newer homes, Vermonters can be exposed to lead when they install salvaged building materials—such as doors, windows, sinks, bathtubs, and plumbing fixtures. If you are unsure about the presence of lead, assume all vintage, antique and salvaged items contain lead. To live safely with older items, you should be aware of the health effects of lead and how to prevent lead exposure.