Toxic Lead in the Air
by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
© Copyright 2002 Residential Inspections LLC, All Rights Reserved
What is lead and what does it do?
Lead is a non-biodegradable element that can accumulate in our bodies. Overexposure to lead can cause poisoning which may result in mental retardation, kidney failure or possibly death. Even low level exposure can cause permanent brain damage, limited attention span, and possibly hyperactivity.
Where does airborne lead come from?
Lead was commonly used in paints prior to about 1978. Many lead based paints were applied to the interiors and exteriors of homes across the country. Areas where lead paint can be found include door and window trim, baseboards, door jambs, cabinets and wall surfaces. Lead can also be found in the wicks of some candles, and in the plastics used in mini-blinds on windows.
Lead in Paint
Exposure can occur by ingestion of peeling paint, common with small children, or by inhalation of fine dusts resulting from the operation of painted windows, sanding of painted surfaces, or stripping paint with chemicals or heat guns. This is a very serious health problem that can permanently affect adults and children alike.
If your home was built before 1978, you should suspect the presence of lead paint in your home and take precautions. Inspect your home for peeling paint. If found, repaint those areas to encapsulate the potential lead paint and reduce exposure risks. Test for the presence of lead in paint if you plan on a major remodeling project or if you will be refinishing previously painted areas, particularly when stripping or sanding will be involved. Also, keep in mind that even if the most recent layer of paint is not lead based, it is possible that previous layers could have high concentrations. Lead paint could always remain a hazard in your home if it is not handled properly. Due to the seriousness of lead based paint, it may be in your best interest to consult with a trained lead inspector for advice.
Lead in Candle Wicks
Lead was commonly used in candle wicks. If present, it will be seen as a small strand of wire in the center of the wick. It had been used there to help keep the wicks erect during candle burning so the wick would not fall over and snuff itself out. The problem is that the lead vaporizes along with the wax and enters the breathable air. There are paper core wicks that accomplish this same goal without the risk of poisoning the air with toxic lead.
Over twenty years ago, there was a voluntary ban on lead in candle wicks. While it is now officially banned, there are still imported candles that can contain lead in the wicks. If you have candles in your home, inspect them for lead wicks. If you shop for candles, be sure not to purchase a candle with a lead wick.
Lead in Mini-Blinds
Lead has been used in millions of vinyl mini-blinds. The lead was used to stabilize and strengthen the vinyl. The problem is that the ultra violet light from the sun breaks down the vinyl and the lead can form as a dust on the surfaces of the vinyl. When opening and closing the blinds, the lead is sent into the breathable air space. These blinds have now been banned.
If you have vinyl blinds, you should test them for lead with an inexpensive lead test kit available at most hardware stores. If your blinds contain lead, the only solution is to discard these blinds and replace them.
Lead in water pipes is also very common in older homes. In fact, many homes have lead pipes delivering water from the street to the house. Sometimes older lead pipes do not present a threat as a mineral coating will develop on the inner walls of the piping preventing exposure. However, this is not always the case. Further, city water supplies can contain lead before being delivered to your home, and still be deemed legally safe. The only way to be certain that the water you are consuming in your house is lead free is to remove the lead from the water at the point of use with a water purification system.
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