Family Health: Preventing Lead Exposure

My parents built the house I was raised in; we had new windows, fresh paint, new pipes, and never once did I hear the term “lead poisoning” when I was growing up. Skip ahead a couple of decades; my husband and I live in a home built in 1925; we’re planning to move to an apartment built in the ’30s; and someday, when we buy a home, we’ll be just as happy with a charming old house as we would with a new one. The dangers of lead exposure have become real to us.

If you’ve new to living in old homes, the learning curve concerning lead can be pretty high. Did you know, for example, that lead is found not only in peeling paint but also in old pipes? Did you know that you need to clean lead-based paint areas in a very specific way? Did you know you should never drink or cook with hot water from the tap in your old home? Did you know soil can contain lead?

Here’s the skinny from the EPA (

  • Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death.
  • Children six years old and under are most at risk because they put their hands in their mouths more than the rest of us.
  • The most common sources of lead are: deteriorating lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust, and lead contaminated residential soil.
  • Two ways to assess your risk for lead exposure are: (1) to have your home tested for lead by a certified inspector, and (2) to have a blood test done at your doctor’s office, especially for your young children.

The EPA has several links to documents which can answer all of your lead-based questions. Here are a few more tips for the family living in a charming (or not-so-charming) old home (

1. Keep your home clean. Cleaning surfaces, floors, and toys once a week greatly reduces your chance of lead exposure. Do not dry-dust; use wet rags instead.

2. Wipe up any paint chips with a wet sponge or rag. Never dry-dust or scrape surfaces that may contain lead paint; the dust is just as dangerous as the paint itself.

3. Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. A diet that is low in fat and high in calcium and iron can help prevent lead absorption in the body. Fish, green vegetables, milk, and cheese are all recommended for this reason.

The dangers of lead exposure are real, but you do not have to be paralyzed by them. Educating yourself about the risks is the first step. Making prevention a priority in your home is the best way to protect everyone in your family from this invisible threat.


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