Lead Lurks In Unexpected Places

Most everyone knows about the basics of lead poisoning. When exposed to high levels of lead you are putting yourself at greater risk for stroke, fatal heart attack and memory loss.

There are many who believe that lead poisoning can also cause mental handicap in children. The most commonly known cause of lead poisoning is house paint in older homes - and this discovery forced many to renovate and repaint.

But what about the hidden household lead you might not suspect? In the October issue of Prevention magazine there is a lengthy article about just this, and their results may really surprise you. Did you know for instance that lead can leak into your drinking water from older plumbing? Or that menopause causes weak bones which can cause lead to leak into your bloodstream?

Liz Vaccariello, Editor in Chief of Prevention explains what these sources might be and has easy tips and hints on how we can protect ourselves and our families.

And although average blood lead levels are way down, new research shows that even low amounts can be harmful, says Ellen Silbergeld, PhD, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Just 4 micrograms per deciliter can double your risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke, and similar levels may also cause memory loss, says Eliseo Guallar, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins.


Homes built before 1986, when a law largely banned the use of lead in plumbing materials, are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. However, new homes are also at risk because the law still allows plumbing labeled lead free to contain up to 8 percent of the metal. The most common problem: brass or chrome-plated faucets and fixtures, which can leech lead.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Test your water with a home kit. If the result is above 15 micrograms per deciliter, run the tap for 30 seconds first thing in the morning and when you get home at night to clear any lead build up. Cook with cold water and consider using a filter approved by the NSF, a nonprofit certification organization.


Renovation causes all sorts of particles to come from the walls and inside of your home. If you're remodeling a home built before 1986, you should assume you're dealing with lead paint. Even if you're not renovating, a home may be contaminated with metal- laced dust from deteriorating paint.

PROTECT YOURSELF: During construction, seal off the work area by closing windows and vents and have builders enter and exit through a side door; afterward, do a thorough cleanup. If you worry that you have flaking lead paint, hire a certified tester (800-424-5323) to do risk assessment. If lead is found, hire a professional removal service: getting rid of it requires major scraping and sanding.


Gardens in many urban areas have high levels of lead thanks in part to paint chips from old homes that have contaminated the soil. Stirring up and working with the soil can put you at a higher risk for lead poison contamination.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Wear gloves and keep gardening shoes outside to avoid tracking in dirt. The vegetables you grow may have lead on their surfaces, so wash them thoroughly; toss outer leaves of leafy crops and peel root vegetables. Maintain soil pH levels above 6.5 ─ that makes veggies less likely to take up the metal. Add a compost or topsoil to dilute dirt and neutralize lead.


When you consume lead, it's stored in your bones ─ but because new bone tissue is constantly replacing old, lead cycles into and out of your blood. More lead is released during times of high bone turnover: after a fracture, during pregnancy, or at menopause. Studies have linked the rise in blood levels in post menopausal women to high blood pressure and kidney problems.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Maintain bone mass to keep lead locked in and out of your bloodstream. Menopausal women should get 1,200 mg of calcium and up to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily.


Recently, two large dishware companies each recalled a pattern due to high lead counts. Some experts caution against eating off older plates (from the '60s or before) or handmade ceramics.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Test your everyday dishes with a lead test kit. Microwave in glass rather than ceramics, because heat can increase lead leaching. When buying new dishes, ask the store manager if the products are lead free or call the manufacturer.


Bullets used in hunting rifles can distribute lead fragments throughout the animal's body and make the meat unsafe to eat. Fishers come in contact with metal dust and salts via sinkers and lures.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Hunters should clean and leave their gear outside. Barnes Bullets sells lead-free ammo, and Prevention lists places to buy safe fishing supplies. If you're sticking with lead sinkers, either wear gloves when handling or wash hands thoroughly, especially before downing a sandwich on the boat.


Some oil and acrylic paints contain lead to give colors luster and brightness. It's common in oranges, reds, blues, and greens. Some clays also contain heavy metals, but shiny glazes are the biggest pottery related risk. Several state health departments have also issued warnings about paint-your-own-pottery studios using glazes with high levels of lead.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Check labels for lead free paints and glazes, and make sure you work in a well-ventilated area. Potters should keep clay wet to minimize dust. If you frequent a paint-your-own studio, ask the staff if they use lead free glazes ─ and find another store if they don't.