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Are there other sources of lead around a home besides drinking water that I should be concerned with?

Bottled Water Contaminants

Yes, because drinking water is not usually the primary source of lead exposure around the home. Even when the drinking water contains some lead, it is rarely the sole source of lead poisoning in a home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person's total exposure to lead, especially infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The most significant sources of lead in the environment, however, are lead based paints and dust in homes from these paints or other materials such as contaminated soil that contains lead.

Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household or building plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect houses and buildings to water mains. In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%. Older construction may still have plumbing that has the potential to contribute lead to drinking water.

Does lead exposure affect everyone to the same degree? No. Young children, infants and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. A child's mental and physical development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. A growing child will tend to more rapidly absorb the lead they consume and a dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult could cause permanent damage to a small human body.

Do all drinking water filters remove lead? No. Most drinking water filters will not remove lead from water. Only special carbon filter units certified by NSF International to remove lead are effective. Reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation systems will remove lead from water.

So where does this lead come from other than your drinking water?

  • Paint: Lead was used in paint to add color, improve the ability of the paint to hide the surface it covers, and to make it last longer. In 1978 the federal government banned lead paint for use in homes. Homes built before 1978 probably contain lead-based paint. Painted toys and furniture made before 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. Lead-based paint becomes dangerous when it chips, turns into dust, or gets into the soil.

  • Dust: Lead dust is the most common way that people are exposed to lead. Inside the home, most lead dust comes from chipping and flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded, or disturbed during home remodeling. Chipping and peeling paint is found mostly on surfaces that rub or bump up against another surface. These surfaces include doors and windows. Young children usually get exposed to lead when they put something with lead dust on it into their mouths. Lead dust may not be visible to the naked eye. Soil: Before 1978 companies used to add lead to gasoline. Lead particles escaped from car exhaust systems and went into the air. This lead fell to the ground and mixed with soil near roads. The lead is still there today. Homes near busy streets may have high levels of lead in the soil.

Top 5 Water Contaminants

Today, lead still comes from metal smelting, battery manufacturing, and other factories that use lead. This lead gets into the air and then mixes with the soil near homes, especially if the home is near one of these sources. Flaking lead-based paint on the outside of buildings can also mix with the soil close to buildings. Lead-based paint mixing with soil is a big problem during home remodeling if workers are not careful. Once the soil has lead in it, wind can stir up lead dust, and blow it into homes and yards. Cities are at highest risk for unsafe levels of lead in soils.

Imported candies or foods, especially from Mexico, containing chili or tamarind: Lead can be found in candy, wrappers, pottery containers, and in certain ethnic foods, such as chapulines (dried grasshoppers).

The workplace and hobbies: People exposed to lead at work may bring lead home on their clothes, shoes, hair, or skin. Some jobs that expose people to lead include home improvement, painting and refinishing, car or radiator repair, plumbing, construction, welding and cutting, electronics, municipal waste incineration, battery manufacturing, lead compound manufacturing, rubber products and plastics manufacturing, lead smelting and refining, working in brass or bronze foundries, demolition, and working with scrap metal. Some hobbies also use lead. These hobbies include making pottery, stained glass, fish sinkers, and refinishing furniture. Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder: In 1995 the United States banned the use of lead solder on cans. But lead solder can still be found on cans made in other countries. These cans usually have wide seams, and the silver-gray solder along the seams contains the lead. Cans containing lead may be brought to the United States and sold. Over time the lead gets into the food. This happens faster after the can has been opened. Foods that are acidic cause lead to get into the food faster.

Lead-glazed ceramics, china, leaded crystal glassware: Lead may get into foods or liquids that have been stored in ceramics, pottery, china or crystal with lead in it. Lead-glazed dishes usually come from other countries.

Metal jewelry: Lead has been found in inexpensive children's jewelry sold in vending machines and large volume discount stores across the country. It also has been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. It is important to make sure that children don't handle or mouth any jewelry.

Mini-blinds: Some non-glossy, vinyl mini-blinds from other countries contain lead.

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead:

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.

Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible. Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs with a solution of powdered automatic dishwasher detergent in warm water. (Dishwasher detergents are recommended because of their high content of phosphate.) Most multi-purpose cleaners will not remove lead in ordinary dust. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime.

Reduce the risk from lead-based paint. Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Do not burn painted wood since it may contain lead. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition, do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead. Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust (for example, opening a window).

Do not remove lead paint yourself. Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust. Consult your state health or housing department for suggestions on which private laboratories or public agencies may be able to help test your home for lead in paint. Home test kits cannot detect small amounts of lead under some conditions. Hire a person with special training for correcting lead paint problems to remove lead-based paint. Occupants, especially children and pregnant women, should leave the building until all work is finished and clean-up is done. For additional information dealing with lead-based paint abatement contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the following two documents: Comprehensive and Workable Plan for the Abatement of Lead-Based Paint in Privately Owned Housing: Report to Congress (December 7, 1990) and Lead-Based Paint: Interim Guidelines for Hazard Identification and Abatement in Public and Indian Housing (September 1990).

Do not bring lead dust into the home. If you work in construction, demolition, painting, with batteries, in a radiator repair shop or lead factory, or your hobby involves lead, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes. You may also be tracking in lead from soil around your home. Soil very close to homes may be contaminated from lead paint on the outside of the building. Soil by roads and highways may be contaminated from years of exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Use door mats to wipe your feet before entering the home. If you work with lead in your job or a hobby, change your clothes before you go home and wash these clothes separately.

Encourage your children to play in sand and grassy areas instead of dirt which sticks to fingers and toys. Try to keep your children from eating dirt, and make sure they wash their hands when they come inside.

Find out about lead in drinking water. Most well and city water does not usually contain lead. Water usually picks up lead inside the home from household plumbing that is made with lead materials. The only way to know if there is lead in drinking water is to have it tested. Contact the local health department or the water supplier to find out how to get the water tested. Send for the EPA pamphlet, Lead and Your Drinking Water, for more information about what you can do if you have lead in your drinking water. Call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) for more information.

And finally...eat right. A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans. Dairy products are high in calcium. Do not store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. If you reuse old plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.