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Top 10 Sources of Lead Exposure in the United States

Saturday, June 24th 2023 10:00am 9 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

Lead is a toxic metal that has been used for centuries in a wide range of applications, from paint to gasoline to pottery. Exposure to lead can cause serious health problems, particularly in children, including cognitive and developmental delays, behavioral problems, and even death. In the United States, the sources of lead exposure are diverse, ranging from lead-based paint in older homes to contaminated soil near highways and industrial areas. In this article, we will examine the top 10 sources of lead exposure in the United States, including their potential health effects and strategies for reducing exposure.

Lead-based paint

Lead-based paint was widely used in the United States until 1978, when it was banned for residential use. However, many older homes still contain lead-based paint, which can chip, peel, and flake, releasing lead dust and paint chips onto surfaces. Children who live in homes with lead-based paint are at risk of lead poisoning, particularly if they ingest the dust or chips. Even low levels of exposure can cause cognitive and behavioral problems, as well as other health effects.
The prevalence of lead-based paint in homes varies by age and location. According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, over 80% of homes built before 1960 contain lead-based paint, compared to only 24% of homes built between 1960 and 1978. Homes in urban areas are more likely to contain lead-based paint than those in suburban or rural areas. To reduce the risk of exposure to lead-based paint, homeowners should have their homes tested for lead, particularly if they are planning to renovate or remodel. If lead-based paint is found, it should be removed by a professional contractor trained in lead-safe work practices.

Contaminated soil

Contaminated soil is another source of lead exposure in the United States, particularly near highways and industrial areas. Lead can be released into the soil from a variety of sources, including lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, and industrial emissions. Once in the soil, lead can be absorbed by plants, eventually making its way into the food chain. Children who play in contaminated soil or who eat fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated soil are at risk of lead poisoning.
According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the risk of lead exposure from soil varies by location and demographic factors. Children living in urban areas, particularly those with high poverty rates, are at higher risk of exposure to lead-contaminated soil than those living in suburban or rural areas. To reduce the risk of exposure to lead in soil, homeowners can have their soil tested for lead, particularly if they are planning to plant a garden or if they have young children who play outside. If lead is found in the soil, it should be removed or covered with clean soil or mulch.

Drinking water

Drinking water is another potential source of lead exposure in the United States, particularly in homes with older plumbing or fixtures. Lead can leach into drinking water from lead-based solder, lead pipes, and fixtures containing lead, such as faucets and valves. In addition, some natural sources of water may contain lead, particularly if the water has passed through lead-containing minerals in the ground.
The health effects of lead exposure from drinking water vary depending on the level and duration of exposure. Children who drink lead-contaminated water are at risk of cognitive and behavioral problems, as well as other health effects. Adults may also experience health effects, particularly if they are exposed to high levels of lead over a long period of time. To reduce the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water, homeowners can have their water tested for lead, particularly if they live in an older home or if they are concerned about the quality of their drinking water. If lead is found, homeowners should install a lead-free
drinking water system or use a filter certified to remove lead.

Air pollution

Air pollution is a source of lead exposure in the United States, particularly from industrial sources and leaded gasoline, which was phased out of use in the United States in 1996. Lead emitted into the air from industrial sources, such as smelters, can contaminate soil and water in surrounding areas. Children who live near these sources of pollution are at risk of lead poisoning from inhalation and ingestion of contaminated soil and dust.
According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the risk of lead exposure from air pollution varies by location and demographic factors. Children living in urban areas, particularly those with high poverty rates, are at higher risk of exposure to lead from air pollution than those living in suburban or rural areas. To reduce the risk of exposure to lead from air pollution, individuals can take steps such as reducing their use of motor vehicles and advocating for stronger regulations on industrial sources of lead emissions.

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