Lead poisoning is a serious risk for young kids. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one million children in the U.S. are currently affected. Even with treatment, lead poisoning can permanently affect a child's development. Because their bodies are small and growing, babies and young children are at greatest risk.
Many parents don't know much about how to prevent lead poisoning. Lead isn't only in paint chips. It can show up in surprising places -- like dust on your windowsill, or in your vegetable garden, or in a playground. Here are five surprising sources of lead -- and tips on how to keep your kids safe.
Parents might worry about a baby eating big chips of lead paint. But it's the little paint chips -- so small that they're just bits of dust -- that experts say are a bigger concern.
Although lead-based paint hasn't been sold since 1978, plenty of older homes still have it. Tiny fragments of lead paint can float through the air and accumulate on surfaces throughout your house. Babies can pick them up on their hands and get them into their mouths. They can also breathe them in directly. Contrary to what you might think, it doesn't take much. Even at very low levels of exposure, lead dust can cause harm.
What you can do: If you live in a home built before 1978, have your home tested for lead. Ideally, hire a trained professional. Although less reliable, you could also test surface paint yourself with a home kit.
If you have lead, look into abatement. It can be expensive. Often, a cheaper option is encapsulation -- sealing the lead paint with a fresh layer of new paint.
Whatever you do, don't start scraping or sanding paint without precautions. That will just send lead dust throughout your home.
Lead and Home Renovations
Once you start a repair, painting, or renovation project in an older home, you can expose lead paint and send particles of it into the air.
Some states report that renovations are the single most common cause of childhood lead poisoning. One study in Wisconsin found that kids who lived in a building while it was being renovated had a 30% chance higher chance of lead poisoning than kids who didn't.
What you can do: If you're in an older home, be cautious before starting renovations. You should assume that there's lead in the paint unless you know otherwise. Remember that home kits will only test for lead on the surface, not in the layers beneath.
Check to make sure that your contractor or painter has been certified by the EPA in lead-safe work practices. If you're doing the construction yourself, get information from the EPA or the National Lead Information Center on how to do it safely.