Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

The History of Lead in the Home

April 27th, 2013 8:38 PM by Dan Howard

As with any environmental issue, you may wonder if lead is really worth all of the hoopla and attention. To give perspective, the CDC estimates that 535,000 US children aged 1–5 years had blood lead levels exceeding their established threshold of BLLs =5 µg/dL. That is a lot of children with unnecessary health problems. 

The CDC, HUD, OSHA and the EPA seldom agree on an issue or cause, but they each regulate lead as a hazard. Lead has and continues to be a serious health hazard that affects our children and many adult workers   

We most commonly hear of lead in paint, but it can be a problem caused by many other sources, some of which will probably surprise you.

Until 1978, we used lead to improve the performance of our paint.  Lead is added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion. Lead was assed to other finished including stains and varnishes.  

The sweet taste accompanied by some lipsticks is due to lead acetate. Lead acetate also appears as an active ingredient in some hair dyes. The compound, through repeated applications, gradually builds up in the hair, turning the hair a dark brown or black color when it binds to protein. Imported mascara often includes high concentrations of lead. 

Lead is used to keep plastics pliable. Artificial Christmas trees and decorations, particularly those made in China are known sources of lead. The lead dust comes off of the plastic. Many plastic toys, imported jewelry, ceramics and panted wooden toys have lead. Ceramic glaze on a coffee cup or a crystal decanter containing alcohol can be a source of lead poisoning.  As one example, Thomas the Tank wooden train sets were recalled for lead in the paint.  This Consumer Product Commission recall on June 13, 2007 caught my personal attention as this was a very high end toy that my grandson happened to play with.    


The lead issue is not a new problem. Lead poisoning has a history going back to the Roman Empire. Lead Acetate was used to sweeten wines, and is considered the first artificial sweetener. Lead acetate also eliminated insects in the wine, by damaging their nervous systems.  That process of damage to nerve tissues also affects the nervous system of people, particularly children and pregnant women.  Lead was also used by the Romans as a liner in the aqueducts and for making eating utensils and pots and pans. 

As a home inspector, this author inspected a residence within the last week that had a lead water service line. Western PA as well as many other areas of the country still have lead pipes used for main municipal water supply pipes.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children under the age of 6, fetus’s in utero and pregnant women. The growing bodies more quickly absorb lead. The lead paints taste sweet and children are also more at risk as they chew paint chips, toys and other objects with lead in paint and plastic. Children also put their hands in their mouths with lead dust on them.

Posted in:General
Posted by Dan Howard on April 27th, 2013 8:38 PM



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