Lead Poisoning is Preventable

Although lead-based paint was banned for residential use in the United States in 1978, it is still present in millions of homes in California and continues to be the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning in the state.  All homes built before 1978 are presumed to contain lead paint.  

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal that has been used in many products. It can be found throughout the environment, including air, soil, and water. The use of lead dramatically rose during the 20th century. Leaded gasoline was the standard until it was banned in 1996, and lead was widely used in house paint and plumbing for many decades. Lead is does not biodegrade and remains present in the air and soil. 

Deteriorating lead-based paint, which is susceptible to chipping, peeling, and creating lead contaminated dust, is the most common source of lead poisoning. Young children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, primarily from inhaling dust or consuming paint chips. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health and development by causing: 

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system 
  • Slowed growth and development 
  • Learning and behavior problems 
  • Hearing and speech problems 

There is no cure for lead poisoning, and the effects are irreversible. Studies have linked just small amounts of lead exposure to serious and irreversible health problems. Most at risk are toddlers just learning to crawl around their homes. Worst yet, it is difficult to assess adverse outcomes of lead poisoning on a child’s health until they are at least six years old. Though studies have shown that the percentage of children experiencing elevated blood lead levels has dropped considerably over the years in California, in 2017 nearly 10,000 children tested with elevated blood lead levels. This represented an increase of over 1,000 children since 2015 despite a decline in the number of children tested. 

Although lead-based paint was banned for residential use in the United States in 1978, it is still present in millions of homes in California and continues to be the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning in the state.  All homes built before 1978 are presumed to contain lead paint.  

Lead in the Environment

 

While a combination of the ban on lead-based paint and a 1992 federal law regulating lead-based paint hazards has significantly reduced lead poisoning rates in the last forty years, an estimated 24 million homes—about a quarter of all U.S. housing—still contain lead-based paint hazards. These 24 million homes continue to constitute a major public health and equity concern. Homes with lead-based paint tend to be older housing stock in dense urban areas with residents who are disproportionately low-income and people of color. Residents are often unaware of the dangers of lead-based paint (even though the law mandates that home sellers and/or landlords provide this information to new occupants), and even when knowledgeable, residents may not have the resources to protect themselves from a lead-based paint hazard.

Secondary Prevention is a common strategy used by state and local governments to target homes with potential lead hazards. Under this approach, the identification of a child with elevated blood lead levels generally triggers an official housing inspection and/or a subsequent order to remove the lead hazard by the property owner. To better combat risks of lead exposure, experts and advocates agree that emphasis should be placed on the adoption of primary prevention approaches to lead-based paint poisoning. Primary prevention focuses on proactive inspections for lead-based paint deterioration in homes to identify and address any hazards before children are poisoned. Visit the Lead Safe Homes Program to learn what the County is doing to make free lead hazard inspections and abatements available to Santa Clara County residents.

Other sources of lead in and around homes may include: imported or antique toys or jewelry, adulterated candy, ceramics, adulterated spices or herbal remedies, drinking water, and soil. Additional lead exposure risks to the community may come from leaded aviation gasoline (used by piston-engine aircraft), accumulation of lead dust at shooting ranges, and industrial sources.

Childhood lead poisoning is 100% preventable. The key is to stop children from coming into contact with lead. Visit leadfreescc.org for more information about sources of lead hazards and what the State, County, and other public agencies are doing to prevent exposures.

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