What is Lead?

Lead is one of the chemical elements found in the earth. Lead is in the form of a soft metal and is classified in the heavy metal group. It is used in the construction of a variety of items such as lead-acid batteries, fuel additives, paint, bullets, metal alloys and even in cosmetics. Lead is poisonous if ingested.

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Lead in the Home

There are numerous products in the home that may contain lead. In particular homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. The government banned lead-based paints in 1978. Many homes still may have lead containing paints on the walls covered up by newer paints and should be no problem. However worn peeling and chipping lead-based paint on window sills, stairs and doors that are easily accessible to children should be taken care of immediately. Lead-based paint is a leading cause of lead poisoning.

Old toys, jewelry and furniture were often painted with lead-based paint or lead was used in the manufacture of the item. Kids biting or chewing on old toys or swallowing peeling lead containing paint are major causes of lead poisoning.

Lead dust which can also be created form deteriorating lead-based paint can be present in the home and be ingested through the air.

Lead can enter drinking water through corroded plumbing and pipes. Many homes built prior to 1986 have lead pipes. New laws enacted by congress have eliminated this hazard but much of the new plumbing in homes may contain lead solder at pipe joints.

A surprising source of lead is food containers. Lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery and porcelain can cause problems as lead can get into the food or liquid.

Dangers of Lead

Lead is poisonous when ingested by humans or animals and has the ability to mimic calcium intake into the body. It inhibits the action of calcium as well. Lead is absorbed directly into the body then distributed to the soft tissue which includes the brain, liver and kidneys. It's also distributed to the bones and teeth. High levels of lead in adults can cause nerve disorders, high blood pressure, muscle and joint pain. Concentration and memory can also be affected. In pregnant women fetal brain damage or death can occur.

Low levels of lead in children can cause nervous system damage, kidney damage, hearing damage and speech problems. In the worst case scenarios it can cause unconsciousness, seizures and death.

Generally the affect of lead is to cause problems in the central nervous system and blood cells. It also interferes with the body's ability to intake and process vitamin D and calcium.

Some general symptoms of lead poisoning may include pain and cramping, headaches, irritability and problems with sleeping. In a case of high level lead poisoning staggering, vomiting, muscle weakness may be present. In extreme instances there can be seizures or a coma may occur.

Inspection and Testing

Homes built before 1978 should be tested for the presence of lead. Water should be tested especially if the home has lead pipes or if the plumbing was installed before 1986. There are lead testing kits that be bought at your local hardware store. Samples are collected then sent to a certified lab for analysis. The local water authority should have a list of labs that can perform the tests.

Inspection professionals can also carry out inspection and testing for presence of lead in the home. A paint inspection can be performed on all painted surfaces in the home to determine if there is lead present. This type inspection is to simply determine if lead is present there is no advice on what to do to remedy the problem. This type inspection is suitable when buying or selling a home or preparing for renovations.

A risk assessment inspection is more complex and will provide information on any dangerous lead exposure conditions in the home such as lead dust or peeling paint. This type inspection will also suggest solutions for remedying the problem.


Lead-based paint need not be removed if it is in good repair. Painting over the surface with modern paints will usually be sufficient. If the paint is in bad repair with issues such as peeling or chipping which may create lead dust then it should be removed. Lead pipes should be replaced or appropriate filters should be used for the water supply. Although there are do-it-yourself guides, removing lead based materials should be performed by certified professionals to ensure the safety of everyone in the home

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