What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning is a serious medical problem that occurs when too much lead accumulates in the body. When eaten or inhaled, lead is easily absorbed into the body and can cause developmental and neurological problems.  Anyone can become lead poisoned, but children under the age of six and pregnant women are at greatest risk. Today the primary cause of lead poisoning in children is lead-based paint.  Lead-based paint was banned from residential use in New Jersey in 1971 and nationally in 1978. However, housing built prior to 1978 may be contaminated.  Houses built prior to 1950 present the greatest risk due to the high percentage of lead contained in older paint.


What is Lead?

Lead is a highly toxic metal that remains in the environment after use.  Lead has been used in the manufacturing of many products for centuries.  Until the 1970’s lead could be found almost everywhere in New Jersey and throughout the United States. Homes were covered with lead paint; cars used leaded gasoline; water pipes, ink, batteries, crayons and many other household goods had lead in them.

Where is lead found?

Lead Based Paint: Lead is often found in peeling and chipping lead-based paint and dust located in houses and apartments built before 1978. Although lead-based paint for residential use was banned in New Jersey in 1971, it was still widely available until the national ban on sales in 1978.  However, lead is currently used in industrial paints.

Dust and debris: Standard maintenance and remodeling practices in old homes may release lead through dust and debris.

Soil: Soil may contain lead from paint that fell from older buildings, industrial pollution, and waste from batteries. Also, until the 1980’s, lead was used in gasoline, and lead exhaust from passing vehicles was deposited on the ground. Consequently, a great portion of land, including playgrounds and schoolyards, has lead-contaminated soil. Soil around newer homes that were constructed on orchard sites may be contaminated with lead arsenate that was formerly used on crops.

Drinking Water: If an older home or facility was constructed using pipes soldered or welded together with metals containing lead, drinking water may be contaminated.  When water sits in the pipes for several hours, the lead is released and contaminates the water.

Work Place Exposure: People whose occupations or hobbies involve lead may carry lead residue on their clothing or other objects, and unknowingly expose their families. Some workplaces where it is common to be exposed to lead include auto body repair shops, bridge and water tank painting and sanding, marine painting and sanding, radiator work, demolition of older buildings and cars, and battery manufacturing.

Food and Household Items: Imported food may contain lead if it was stored in lead-soldered cans or kept or cooked in pottery, ceramic, or crystal containers made with lead.  Pottery is often covered with glazes that contain lead. This is primarily a problem in industries that do not have the resources to ensure their kilns are hot enough to seal in any lead toxins.  Also, imported candles that have metal wicks may contain lead.  Pigments used in plastics and labels may increase exposures to lead.  Products can include imported mini-blinds, toys, candy labels, shellacs, and clear coatings.

Cosmetics: Cosmetics or make-up from other countries often contain lead, and are commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures.

Home Remedies: Many home remedies used by cultures throughout the world contain lead and are particularly dangerous as they are ingested. These remedies include Paylooah from Southeast Asia, Azarcon from Mexico, and others such as Greta, Ruedo, Alacron Kohl, Ghassard, and Kandu.

For more information on sources of lead, home safety tips, consumer resources, and a list of certified lead abatement companies go to https://www.state.nj.us/health/childhoodlead/ and click here to read a helpful brochure.