Yesterday, we identified lead-based paint as the primary source of exposure to lead in children, occurring in and around homes, child care centers, and schools built before 1978. Today, we will finish our week-long series on the public health risks and consequences of environmental lead exposure by looking at other potential sources of lead poisoning.
Flint, Michigan learned the hard way that with the perfect storm of polluted water, bureaucratic cluelessness and negligence, and an unsuspecting population, drinking water can be a source of lead poisoning. While corrosive water can strip lead from municipal pipes that supply homes, much of the danger lies within the plumbing of individual homes themselves, as the EPA explains:
Lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to eight percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 0.25 percent. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
In order to reduce lead in drinking water:
- Know where your drinking water comes from.
- Know how your water is treated before it enters your home.
- Use cold tap water for cooking and drinking.
- Observe tap water for unusual colors, odors, tastes, and changes in clarity. Report such observations to the water company which supplies your water, and to the local or state health department if you feel your health is threatened.
- Consider using reverse-osmosis devices or carbon filters on the tap(s) where you draw your drinking water.
- Visit CDC.gov for more detailed information regarding lead in drinking water.
Even though lead paint has been banned in the United States, painted products like furniture and children’s toys may be imported from countries without such regulations. According to the CDC, imported painted toys and domestic plastic toys can both be sources of lead exposure in children who like to put things in their mouths:
Paint: Lead may be found in the paint on toys. Lead was banned in house paint, on products marketed to children, and in dishes or cookware in the United States in 1978. But it is still widely used in other countries and therefore can still be found on imported toys. It may also be found on older toys made in the United States before the ban.
Plastic: The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. Lead softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms dust.
The CDC also reports that lead can be found in toy jewelry, candies imported from Mexico, old and weathered artificial turf, sindoor (a cosmetic powder popular in Hindu and Sikh cultures), and some folk remedies handed down through generations:
Lead has been found in some traditional (folk) medicines used by East Indian, Indian, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures. Folk medicines can contain herbs, minerals, metals, or animal products. Lead and other heavy metals are put into certain folk medicines because these metals are thought to be useful in treating some ailments. Sometimes lead accidentally gets into the folk medicine during grinding, during coloring, or from the package.
The EPA has more information on how to protect your family from lead exposure here.