Lead poisoning: It causes everything from learning and behavioral disorders, to seizures and even death.
And what you may not realize is just how little it takes to cause serious harm. What's worse, lead can very well be lurking in your home right now. Here's how to tell if you're in a lead hazard zone, and if you are, what to do about it.
"Home Sweet Home" is a simple phrase expressing our core belief that home is where we raise healthy children and keep our families safe.
Mother and homemaker Jennifer Georgitis says,"My husband and I moved to a nice neighborhood because we thought it was a great place to raise our kids and we could afford to move here."
What Jennifer did not suspect is that the house they rented in a safe Los Angeles neighborhood was a major lead hazard. Like many people, she thought lead poisoning only affected poor families living in sub-standard housing. But health experts now warn that the middle-class is equally at risk.
Linda Kite of Healthy Homes Collaborative says, "If your home is old, it's built before 1978, chances are it's got lead-based paint. And lead poisoning is the number one environmental cause of miscarriages and birth defects."
Most at risk are young children.
"If you're bombarding that child's brain with lead, then you're going to see brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, problems with speech, problems with hearing," says Kite. "Lead-based paint is no longer used in homes. But layers of the toxic material are hidden under newer coats of paint. As long as the paint is stable, completely in tact, you should be okay. It's when you have friction surfaces, like old double-hung windows, and you're opening and closing those windows, that stuff is rubbing. Every time it's rubbing, it's creating invisible dust."
And even a tiny amount of lead dust is cause for alarm.
Jennifer Georgitis, who had just been warned about lead dust by a worker at Home Depot, became alarmed when a workman started scraping paint in her kids' playroom.
"He left the remnants and the chips and the paint and dust behind," says Georgitis. "So I called the city, which referred me to Linda."
Kite came to see the house, together with a city inspector who brought a portable lead detector. The federal standard for lead-based paint is one milligram per square centimeter. Basically, a portable X-ray device is put at the painted surface and measures.
The test registered at 9.2 positive.
Similar lead levels of nine to 10 times over the limit were found throughout Jennifer's home. Luckily, Linda had intervened soon enough to prevent serious long-term poisoning to the family.
"The important thing to understand about lead poisoning is that it is entirely preventable," says Kite. "What we want to do is make sure you never have paint that's chipping and peeling. A can of paint doesn't cost that much money, and if it means keeping the paint from chipping and peeling, then it's worth a coat of paint."
Kite says you should also make sure anyone working on your pre-1978 home is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kite says,"It doesn't matter what kind of contractor they are, if they're going to come in and do any kind of renovation or if they're just coming to paint, the law requires that they be certified. It's a one-day class. It teaches them how to work safely, and then clean up thoroughly so that there isn't any lead dust left behind."
These simple tips will protect your family from the horrors of lead poisoning, and assure your residence remains your sweet home.