Protect your family against lead hazards; it’s easy and effective.

Lead poisoning is a medical condition that can affect a variety of bodily processes, organs, and tissues. In the past, some people were routinely exposed to large amounts of lead directly or to products that contained this substance. Workers who handled lead or its compounds without suitable protective devices were especially susceptible to its hazards. In addition, children were and are still vulnerable because relatively low concentrations of lead in their bodies can interfere with their developing nervous systems and lead to learning and behavior disorders.

By and large, lead in the environment is a legacy of bygone days. It’s now prohibited for use in plumbing, gasoline and all but a few specialized types of paint. Lead-bearing products are also pretty much gone from the marketplace. Foreign-made toys or other objects having some lead content occasionally sneak through and generate lots of buzz when they’re found, but instances are rare and consumer watchdogs generally catch them rapidly.

Nevertheless, everybody in Philadelphia, and in just about any other American city you can name, is exposed to lead. Once in place, it does not decompose into a more benign residue. So it’s in the ground as a result of particulates from automobile exhaust in the leaded-gasoline common from the mid 1920s to the end of 1995. It’s in the water flowing through the plumbing of older houses that still have lead pipes (phased out in 1930) and lead-based solder (banned in 1988) in copper, brass, and other more modern hardware. And it’s embedded in old paint (disallowed in 1978), often many layers below the surface. Young children and babies being carried by pregnant women, are the segment of the population chiefly affected by the trace quantities of lead remaining in the environment that may enter their bodies through their respiratory or digestive systems.

Peeling paint in buildings constructed before 1978 is popularly viewed as the primary culprit; it can be a hazard, not only in poorly maintained properties but in those where age, water leakage, abrasion, or other factors have caused paint buckling, cracking, or flaking. However, most experts agree that dust is the main causal factor. Indoors, by release resulting from friction or impact of surfaces whenever old painted windows are raised or lowered in their tracks or doors are opened or closed in their jambs, or by infiltration from behind walls, ceilings, or floors. Outdoors owing to disturbance of soil containing exhaust residues of leaded gasoline.

The federal government, through the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has addressed one key aspect of this issue. Contractors working on buildings containing lead paint are now required to follow procedures that keep dust and debris from spreading beyond the project area and to do thorough cleaning when the job is completed.

Beyond this, some cities and states have enacted laws or incentives to remove or effectively encapsulate lead paint in older housing. These statutes have proven to be only marginally effective because of the overwhelming cost of the work and the virtual impossibility of totally eliminating the problem.

Fortunately, individuals can take some simple but remarkably effective common-sense precautions to mitigate the hazard and assume responsibility for protecting their own families. Variations of these steps are promoted nationally by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and locally by the Philadelphia Health Department. The guidelines principally include:

You can get more detailed tips from the EPA’s brochure “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home;” it’s online at:

In addition, the Philadelphia Health Department offers a range of services, from free classes on various lead-related topics to speakers for your community, housing, or other group. Contact them at 215-685-2332 or its 24-hour information line at 215-685-2797.

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