Lead is a naturally occurring element. Before the health effects of lead were understood, lead had been used in many products from paint and gasoline to pottery and plumbing fixtures. Over the years, lead use has been greatly reduced in the products we use. However, once lead is in the environment, it does not degrade or readily disappear over time - this fact makes it important for you to know where lead may be present, and how to take steps to protect yourself and your family from lead exposure
Lead is most dangerous to our health when it is ingested. Lead exposure to children is especially serious and can cause learning and mental disabilities, behavioral problems, and stunted growth. In adults, lead poisoning can cause memory loss, kidney damage as well as other symptoms.
Homes built before 1979 were likely painted inside and out with lead-based paint, which, over time can flake to contaminate interior and exterior surfaces in and around homes. In addition, yards may become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint gets into the soil. Soil can also be contaminated from nearby industry or from past use of leaded gasoline in cars. Before being banned from automobiles in 1996, millions of tons of lead were introduced into the environment through combustion of leaded gasoline. These sources of lead contribute to “man-made background concentration” of lead in soil. Another past source of lead in homes were lead-containing water pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures.
Although paint, water pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures no longer contain lead, and millions of our automobiles now use unleaded gasoline, lead is still a contaminant in our environment, so we need to know how to reduce our exposure risk.
“Due to past lead use in products, urban and suburban areas can have higher soil lead levels, especially within several feet of building foundations and near streets, but with some education, everyone can limit their exposure to lead,” said Interim Director Marie Woodin, Sacramento County Environmental Management Department.
Limit Lead Exposure
- Wash your hands after working or playing outdoors to reduce hand-to-mouth transfer of contaminated dust or soil and always wash your hands before eating and at bedtime.
- Prevent children from playing on bare soil and consider providing a sandbox that's covered when not in use, and plant grass or cover bare soil with mulch.
- Use door mats on entry areas to wipe off the soles of shoes.
- Clean dusty surfaces with a wet mop or damp cloth and wash children’s toys regularly.
- Run cold water through older plumbing before drinking and don’t use hot tap water to make baby formula or for cooking because lead leaches from pipes and fixtures more easily in hot water.
- Grow vegetables in raised planter boxes using store-bought soil, and always wash fruits and vegetables from the yard before they are eaten.
- If your house has old paint, don’t remove it by sanding. Instead, test it for lead and hire a certified lead professional or call the Lead-Related Construction Information Line at 1-800-597-LEAD (5323).
Healthy Foods Protect the Body from Absorbing Lead
- Eat regular meals and healthy snacks.
- Eat calcium‐rich foods often (cheese, milk, spinach, salmon, yogurt, tofu, and leafy greens).
- Eat iron‐rich foods often (lean red meat, chicken/turkey without skin, raisins, beans, oatmeal and split peas).
- Take vitamin C to help the body absorb iron (fruit juice, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries).
- Reduce fatty foods such as fried foods, fast foods, and “junk” foods (donuts, potato chips, cupcakes, etc.), but some fat in the diet is very important for brain development, especially for children under age two. Milk and butter are healthier sources of fat.
Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning
“In 2013 less than 1% of children age 0-21 that were tested in Sacramento County had blood lead levels above 4.5. Typically with these elevated blood lead level cases, it is lead-based paint in the home that is the cause,” said, Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County Public Health Officer.
Assessing and Screening for Childhood Lead Poisoning
Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants have a responsibility in California to conduct a lead assessment on all children between 6 months and 6 years old, and if appropriate to screen with a blood lead test. Children in programs such as Medi-Cal are required to be screened with a blood lead test. If you have concerns about lead exposure, discuss it with your health care provider and go to California Department of Public Health website to learn more about the Standard of Care on Screening for Childhood Lead Poisoning
and review Blood Lead Level Data for California Counties and Zip Codes
Resources for Home Lead Testing
If you are interested in performing lead testing at your house, learn more about Lead Test Kits on the EPA website
. Also many local home improvement and paint stores carry easy‐to‐use and low cost lead testing kits in the paint section. For additional information about lead testing kits, contact the EMD Childhood Lead Program, 916‐875‐8448.
Sacramento County Environmental Management Department
For Sacramento County, unauthorized releases of hazardous materials into the environment are handled by the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department
, which has been designated by the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) for Site Assessment and Mitigation. This program provides mandated regulatory oversight of the assessment and remediation of properties on which there has been an unauthorized or illegal release of hazardous materials to soil and/or groundwater in order to protect public health, safety, and the environment.