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.
The major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children is lead dust from chipping or peeling lead-based paint, but there are many other lead hazards. Lead poisoning can be prevented when you know what danger signs and hazards to look for.
Dust from lead-based paint is the major source of lead poisoning among 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-based paint. Over time, lead-based 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-based 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 mouth. 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 main ways these activities cause exposure to lead:
- Breathing in lead dust
- Getting lead dust on your hands and then swallowing it while eating, drinking or smoking
Unsafe work practices that disturb lead-based paint will create lead hazards (see Section 2.2.28). Under Vermont law, if lead hazards are created in any building or structure, you will be responsible for the cleanup that will require you to hire a Vermont-licensed lead abatement contractor.
Do you need financial or technical help? The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board’s Lead-Based Paint Program offers help to homeowners and landlords (based on income) to lower the risk of lead poisoning from lead-based paint hazards. Call 802-828-5064 or 800-290-0527 or email [email protected]. If you live in Burlington or Winooski, the Burlington Lead Program has similar help available. Call 802-865-LEAD (5323).
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.
Lead gets into drinking water as it moves through lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures.
You cannot see, smell or taste lead. Testing is the only way to know if lead is in your drinking water.
Soil alongside older homes may be contaminated with lead from lead-based paint flaking off the house. Soil near roadways or driveways also may be contaminated with lead from car exhaust when leaded gasoline was used. Small amounts of lead may occur naturally in soil. And some lead contamination comes from industrial sources like lead battery manufacturing plants or brass foundries.
Lead-contaminated soil can be brought into your home on shoes. It is also very easy for a child to swallow contaminated soil while playing outside. To prevent lead poisoning, leave your shoes at the door and don't let children play in bare soil.
Adults who work jobs that involve lead—such as painting, plumbing, metal production, building renovation, demolition, bridge work or manufacturing—are at risk of lead poisoning. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Vermont OSHA have more information on occupational exposure to lead. Workers can also bring lead home on shoes and work clothes, which places family members at risk of coming in contact with lead.
Many common hobbies and crafts use materials containing lead—such as car parts, stained glass, jewelry, pottery glazes, artists paints, fishing sinkers, bullets and old maple sugaring equipment.
Lead has been banned from house paint and lead content has been limited in children's products, but it still can be found in many common consumer and household products and in imported goods. Some examples include:
- Children's toys and toy jewelry
- Keys and keychains
- Inks and dyes used in fabrics and packaging
- Enamel bathtubs and sinks
- Imported vinyl miniblinds
- Glazed pottery, especially from China and Mexico
- Folk remedies and medicine (e.g. Gaw Mo Dah)
- Imported cosmetics (e.g. Kohl, Surma, Thanakha and Kajal)
- Candy from Mexico
- Imported food cans
You and your children may have come in contact with lead before coming to the United States. Lead is found in common products—such as amulets, trinkets, pottery and candy. It can also be in cosmetics like Thanakha, Surma, Kajal and Kohl, and in traditional remedies like Gaw Mo Dah. If you brought these items into the United States or receive them from friends or family, you can ask the Health Department if they are safe.
The Health Department recommends every child between six months and 16 years old get tested for lead when coming to the United States. One more test should be done three to six months later. In addition, children need to be tested for lead at ages 1 and 2. Your health care provider can test you or your family for lead or can tell you where to get one.
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.
You can use a simple kit to find out if you have lead dust in your home. You can buy kits online or at a hardware store, but make sure your kit has instructions for sending samples to a lab. Lead tests that give immediate results are less accurate. Watch this video to learn how to do a lead dust test in your home.