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Lead

What is it and where is it found?

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal that has been used as an additive to gasoline and many other consumer products. Lead was removed from gasoline completely in 1996, after a 25 year phase out period.

Until 1977, lead was used in household paint as a coloring agent and to speed drying, increase durability, retain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion.

How do people come into contact with it?

Children contact lead by touching lead-based paint surfaces, swallowing small bits of lead paint chips, and breathing dust from deteriorating paint.  When windows have been painted with lead-based paint, the friction created by opening and closing them releases dust into the air where it can be inhaled.

Adults who work in occupations such as metal recycling can carry lead dust home on their clothing, shoes and hair where their children can come into contact with it.

Renovation of homes that were built before 1978 can create dust that often times contains lead. Nearly half of all the investigations for childhood lead poisoning in Oregon found that remodeling was the culprit. The greatest risk is in homes built before 1950.

Other sources include household plumbing with lead solder that can leach lead into drinking water, painted toys and furniture, lead-glazed ceramic ware and some home remedies.

What are the health concerns?

Lead is a poison that affects every organ and system in the body. Very high levels of lead can cause coma, seizures and death. Even a little lead can cause learning disabilities in children. The effects of lead on a child can be irreversible and permanent.

Health effects include:

  • Brain damage and lowered intelligence
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Impaired speech and language
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing damage

What can I do to protect myself, my family, or my employees?

  • Find out when your home was built
  • Inspect your home for signs of deteriorating paint
  • Use a wet cloth for dusting and dust frequently
  • Wash hands often, and especially before eating and after playing outside
  • Vacuum often, using a HEPA filter if possible
  • Use only non-toxic art supplies
  • Do not use old, imported or hand-made pottery for food
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium, iron and vitamin C. These nutrients reduce the body’s ability to absorb lead.
  • Remove work clothes and shower upon entering the home if your job or hobby involves metals.
  • Keep children and pregnant and nursing women away from remodeling activities

What's being done to protect public health?

Oregon adopted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule in April of 2010. This rule requires all renovators and maintenance professionals to be trained and certified to work on housing, child care facilities and schools built before 1978.  

Where can I get more information?

Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Lead

Lead-Safe Families

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Work-Related Lead Poisoning