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Lead is a poisonous metal that was once commonly used in the manufacture of paint, gasoline, and plumbing. While U.S. law has banned the use of lead in new construction, existing lead-based paint and plumbing in homes may present a significant health hazard, especially for children. Inspectors who are not trained in lead detection should not perform lead inspections. They can, however, learn the basic facts about lead so they can answer questions from concerned clients.

A few interesting facts about lead and lead poisoning:

  • Before 1955, paint in homes was composed of up to 50% lead. Regulations in the 1970s limited the amount of lead allowed in paint and, today, just 0.06% is permitted under U.S. law.
  • The modern English word for “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. Lead was used as an inexpensive and reliable material for the vast network of plumbing that supplied Rome and its provincial cities with water. Even the Romans, however, were aware that lead was toxic, and they attempted to reduce their everyday contact with the metal.
  • Unlike many other toxins, lead poisoning has no satisfactory threshold that is considered safe. The lower limit of lead concentrations in the human bloodstream considered to be dangerous have been reduced repeatedly. Even the Centers for Disease Control admit that the current acceptable limit for concentrations of lead in the blood of 10 micrograms/deciliter can be dangerous.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is characterized by an enormous variety of symptoms which are sometimes hard to recognize because they are symptoms of other conditions. Some symptoms include:

  • irritability
  • poor muscle coordination
  • nerve damage
  • cognitive impairment
  • reproductive damage
  • coma and death

Where around the home is lead likely to be found?

  • In soil. Even if lead paint has been removed from exterior walls, chips may have made their way into the soil. Also, lead may have been deposited from car exhaust many years ago when gasoline contained high concentrations of lead.
  • In dust. Dust can become contaminated in a number of ways, often from soil that makes its way into the home or from lead paint that has been disturbed.
  • In plumbing and tap water. Some older houses still have lead plumbing. Even in houses that have copper pipes, lead solder was often used to bond these pipes together.
  • In older paint. In 1978, lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Still, homes constructed after that date may have used lead-based paint that had been warehoused.

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