Spring cleanup can increase lead exposure in home

Spring cleaning is an annual ritual. Whether you’re cleaning, remodeling or renovating, you need to become knowledgeable about potential lead contamination and sources.

Many homes have one or more sources of lead contamination. Lead exposure can have health and environmental effects on humans and pets. Lead is a soft metal used in many products, including ceramics, printer’s ink, children’s toys, paint, solder, lead crystal, water pipes and gasoline. For many years, it was commonly used in these products. Lead can last for hundreds of years in the environment and never break down into a harmless substance.

In homes, the most common source of lead is from “paint dust” in older homes. While lead was banned in paints in 1978, 74 percent of homes built prior to 1980 may have high levels of lead paint. This is the most common source of exposure for children. They don’t eat peeling paint chips, instead they play in areas where deteriorating paint has produced paint dust. Most of this dust can be found near areas exposed to moisture, such as around doors, windows and exterior walls. If paint is intact (no chipping, peeling or chalking), then exposure is greatly reduced. Chalking that causes paint dust also comes from weathering or when surfaces rub or scrape together as in the case of door and window sills.

Do-it-yourself kits are available to test for lead. These kits will indicate the presence or absence of lead but will not indicate the amount of lead present.

Other sources of lead are contaminated soils and drinking water. While lead occurs naturally in soil, soils can become further contaminated through paint or leaded gasoline.

Even though lead has been banned from gasoline, many uses prior to the ban may have impacted the soils. High traffic areas continue to show high lead levels in the nearby soils. Even an idling car in a driveway could have resulted in increased contamination in adjacent areas. Testing the soil is the only way to determine if any and what level of lead is present.

Lead can get into your water supply from several sources: lead pipes that transport the water to your house, lead pipe connectors or solder joints in the pipes and/or brass faucets that may contain lead. Homes on well water may also have underwater pumps with brass fittings that can increase lead levels in water. Soft or acidic water (pH less than 7) can dissolve lead from pipes and fittings. Have your water tested to determine if lead is present and at what level. This is a special test that can be completed by a certified testing lab.

Another simple way to reduce lead from drinking water is to run the water for several minutes if the water from that faucet has not been used for at least four hours. Never use hot water for cooking and drinking. Hot water tends to release lead if it is present in the system.

For more information about lead contamination, see Michigan State University Extension’s Home*A*Syst -- Home Assessment Guide (WQ51), available through your local Extension office or at the MSU Extension Bookstore.

You can also download specific Home*A*Syst chapters.

For general information on healthy homes, programs and resources available and information on certified lead professionals, go to Michigan's Lead Safe page.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a lead hotline, FAQ’s and a “Home Danger Zone Finder” site at www.epa.gov/lead..

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