WHAT IS LEAD?

Found only in small amounts within the earths crust, lead is an element that is naturally occurring. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be very toxic to humans and animals causing many health effects.

WHERE CAN LEAD BE FOUND?

Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, including inside our homes. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes: paint, pipes and plumbing materials, ceramics, solders, batteries, gasoline…

Lead may enter the environment from past and current uses. Industrial sources and contaminated sites are known to emit lead into the environment, such as former lead smelters. Natural levels of lead in soil usually range between 50 and 400 parts per million. Significant increases in lead levels in the environment have been due to smelting, mining and refining activities, specifically near mining and smelting sites.

When lead is released into the air from vehicles or industrial sources, it is capable of traveling long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may find its way from soil, down into ground water, depending on the type of lead compound and also the characteristics of the soil. Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to reduce the amount of lead in: drinking water, the air, soil, food, consumer products, and occupational settings.

OLDER HOMES AND BUILDINGS

If your home was built before 1978, then there is a good chance that it has lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, however some states did ban it even earlier. Studies show that lead from paint as well as lead-contaminated dust, are one of the most common causes of lead poising.

Lead paint is still present in millions of homes, and often found under layers of newer paint. If the paint is in good condition, then the lead paint is normally not a problem. However, deteriorating lead-based paint (LBP) is a hazard and needs immediate attention. Some signs of deterioration are: peeling, chipping, damaged, chalking, cracking, or damp.

Lead may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can access and chew on, or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as:

  • Windows and window sills
  • Doors and door frames
  • Stairs, banisters, railings, and porches

Be sure to keep all paint in excellent shape and clean up dust frequently in order to avoid health risks. Read about simple steps to protect your family from lead hazards (PDF).

Deteriorating lead-based paint inside of a home can result in household dust containing lead when they mix together. Lead dust can also be tracked into the home from the outside soil that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and other lead sources, such as industrial pollution and past use of leaded gasoline. Read more: lead dust. Renovations and repairs can create toxic lead dust when painted surfaces are disturbed or demolished. Learn more: hiring lead-safe certified contractors.

Pipes and solder: Lead is used in some water service lines as well as household plumbing materials. As water flows through the plumbing, lead can leach and enter the water. Unfortunately, lead pipes and lead solder were very commonly used until 1986. Read more: lead in drinking water.

LEAD LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Congress has passed a number of laws related to lead. These laws address lead in paint, dust and soil; lead in the air; lead in water; and disposal of lead wastes.. The EPA issues policy and guidance documents regarding the federal requirements for the regulated community to help assist them to comply with these regulations.

LAWS AND EXECUTIVE ORDERS

Lead is a pollutant regulated by many laws administered by EPA, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 (Title X), Clean Air Act (CAA)Clean Water Act (CWA)Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)among others.

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