ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week takes place Oct. 24 – 30 this year, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to raise our awareness about lead poisoning risks around the home.
Lead poisoning occurs when lead enters the bloodstream and builds up to toxic levels. Developing fetuses and children under the age of six are at greater risk for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can result in delayed brain development and learning, behavior problems, slowed growth, and hearing and speech problems, especially in young children. There are other health effects associated with lead poisoning that affect adults and children including decreased kidney function, hypertension, and reproductive problems. Lead exposure may occur when individuals ingest lead-contaminated dust or lead-based paint chips, drink water from lead pipes, or place lead contaminated objects in their mouths.
The good news is lead poisoning is preventable. The first step is to determine your lead exposure hazard and the next step is to take precautions to eliminate that exposure.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3.6 million children under the age of six live in homes with lead exposure hazards. If you are concerned about you or your family’s lead levels, contact your family doctor, pediatrician, or local health department to determine if you and your family are at risk and if blood lead testing is necessary.
Individuals at higher risk to lead exposure include those who:
- Live or spend time in homes built before 1978 where lead-based paint may be present, especially if the paint is peeling or chipping or if the home has recently undergone renovation.
- Consume water contaminated by lead on a regular basis.
- Are or have household members who are exposed to lead at work or through a hobby, like shooting at a firing range.
Other sources of lead exposure may include certain folk remedies (such as ba-baw-san, a Chinese herbal remedy used to pacify infants, or Azarcon, a traditional Hispanic remedy used to treat gastrointestinal issues), imported foods (such as candy imported from Mexico), and consuming food or liquids stored or served in containers containing lead.
Assume that housing built before 1978 has lead-based paint, unless tests have shown otherwise. It is important to know that lead-based paint that is undisturbed and intact is not a hazard. It is the deterioration of paint that causes a problem. There are a number of actions you can take to reduce your and your family’s exposure to lead generated from deteriorating paint:
- Read the information on potential lead hazards that you received when you moved to your current residence.
- Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent deterioration. Repair chipping or flaking paint when possible. If you are a tenant, report the damage to your landlord or the Family Housing Office.
- Clean around painted areas, such as windows and doors, where friction can generate paint dust. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust.
- Take off shoes when entering the house to prevent bringing soil contaminated with lead-dust indoors (assuming the exterior of the home has lead-based paint).
- Frequently wipe down toys and surfaces that children touch.
While lead-based paint has long been associated with lead poisoning, lead in drinking water has received increased attention in recent years. The primary sources of lead in drinking water are lead service lines in community water systems and lead pipes in buildings. Lead service lines and pipes may be present in older cities and in homes built before 1986. Brass faucet fixtures and plumbing with lead solder can also be sources of lead in drinking water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to publish the Revised Lead and Copper Rule in December 2021. This rule will further protect vulnerable populations from lead in drinking water. The revised rule will require testing for lead in schools and child care facilities, require water systems to identify and make public the locations of lead services lines, and will drive the replacement of more lead services lines.
In 2013, the Army began sampling all drinking water fixtures where children aged six and younger may regularly consume drinking water. This includes child development centers, youth centers and elementary schools. In 2016, Army owned or leased housing was added to the recurring five-year sampling plans. Any fixture that exceeds the Army Installation Management Command action level of 15 ppb (parts per billion) is immediately removed from use until corrective action is conducted and the water tests below the action level.
To find out if there is lead in your drinking water, contact your water utility and request a copy of their annual Consumer Confidence Report. You can also have your water tested for lead if you are uncertain. Take the following steps to minimize lead exposure if your drinking water is contaminated with lead:
- Install an ANSI/NSF Standard 53-certifed faucet-mounted filter on faucets used to prepare food and drinks.
- Use only cold tap water to prepare food or drinks.
- Flush faucets with cold water for 1 minute before using water for food preparation or drinking.
Knowing if you and your family are at risk for lead exposure is the first step in prevention. Army installations must inform tenants of Army family housing what is known about lead-based paint and other lead hazards in their home. If you have unresolved concerns about Army housing and related health issues, including lead poisoning, please call the APHC’s Housing Environment Health Response Registry at 1-800-984-8523. For additional information regarding lead, visit the APHC workplace health website.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing, and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.