Recently on WebMD.com, it was revealed that a study by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that 170,000,000 people (roughly half of all adults in the United States) were exposed to toxic levels of lead as children. In addition to this, 90% of the people in the study who were born between 1951 to 1980 had levels of the metal in their blood that exceeds the upper limit threshold established by the CDC. Specifically, those in the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation, and Baby Boomers encountered moderate levels of lead; however, Generation X was exposed to very high levels, and now Millennials and subsequent generations are exposed to very low levels.

Housing and fuel codes and standards were updated over the years; however, buildings of practically all kinds built prior to these changes will still — even today — have a higher chance of containing products that contain lead. Whether it be paint, plumbing, soldering, or gasoline, these materials were not removed or replaced in one united effort across the nation. These components in buildings were extracted over the course of years, and in many cases residual lead still remained in various environments.

As a result, children during this time encountered lead at home and school, and also while being in proximity to a wide variety of vehicles using leaded gas, including cars and buses. Given that lead has many adverse effects on health — particularly in the developing brains of children — it is important to recognize what the consequences and symptoms include. The study concluded that millions of people suffered losses in IQ levels. The average damage for people born between 1966-1970 equated to nearly 6 points.

This will also have broader implications for public health for many more years to come, because the damage lasts throughout a person’s entire life. In addition to mental skills, lead poisoning also harms the heart and kidneys. There is a marked increase in the risk for hypertension amongst those who experienced prolonged exposure to the heavy metal.

It is important to know the year your home was built. Whether it be a house, condominium, or apartment, those structures built before 1978 are particularly likely to still have lead present. There may be as many as 24,000,000 homes in the United States that still have peeling paint that contains lead within the paint itself, as well as lead dust that can be inhaled, rather than ingested.

It would be wise to have an older home inspected for lead prior to purchasing it. Or, if you already own your home, you can also perform lead tests with a kit. They are available in the paint sections of hardware stores. These can tell you whether or not lead is present, but they cannot measure the quantity or concentration. If you prefer to skip that step, there are environmental lab tests you can contract, or you can contact the local health department. They will be able to connect you with a licensed professional who can take more nuanced assessments.

If you find you do have lead in your home, there are ways to protect yourself and your family while the toxin is removed. To reduce exposure, make sure there are no chewable surfaces a child can reach. Cover, cordon, or block these areas, so that kids cannot come into physical contact with the paint. If possible, close and lock doors to prevent access to rooms with the contaminated paint. Regularly washing hands, toys, blankets, utensils, cups, and other objects is a good idea. This will rinse lead dust off of surfaces. It is important to frequently mop floors, as well as using wet towels to clean windows. Something else that can reduce exposure is to remove all shoes upon entering the house (or leaving them in a garage or another place away from all interior spaces), because lead can leach into the ground around buildings that contain lead. Shoes can track the tainted soil or debris into the home.

The symptoms of lead poisoning can be mistaken for something else, so be sure to pay attention for the following in children: Learning difficulties, erratic moods, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness, gastrointestinal pain, vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, and seizures. With newborns, it would be wise to have lead levels tested when the baby is born premature, has lower than expected birth weight, or is showing delayed physical growth. Adults can experience joint pain, high blood pressure, memory loss, headaches, abdominal pain, and mood disorders. Adult men might have lower sperm counts or abnormal sperm cells. Women can experience difficulties with pregnancy, especially miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature deliveries.

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