LEAD IN THE SOIL
Lead is a metal found naturally in the earth and has been used for centuries in many products and materials before its effects on people, especially children, were known. It was added to paint because it made it more durable and colorful. It was added to gasoline to stop engines from "knocking."
Lead is a potent poison that can be toxic in small amounts. When it enters the human body, it circulates in the bloodstream, damaging the brain, until finally, it gets stored in blood, organs and bones. It can remain in bones for years, then be released into the bloodstream, where it can do more damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and the body's ability to make blood. Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their brains are still growing. In children below the age of 6 years, lead can cause permanent delays in growth, development and speech. It can also cause hearing loss, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and emotional problems. Even low levels of lead in the bloodstream have been shown to have negative health effects in children. Often, a child will not show signs or symptoms of lead poisoning until his or her levels are very high.
The most common sources of lead in the environment are chipping/peeling paint on the interior/exterior of homes built before 1978, at which time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned it as an additive to paint. In many homes there are layers of lead paint below layers of non-leaded paint. Over time, the outside layers of paint will begin to chip and peel, exposing layers of lead paint that could potentially poison children and adults. Lead dust can be created around high-friction areas, such as windows and doors.
Laws were enacted to remove lead from gasoline in 1978, but it took years for the fossil fuel industry to comply. For decades, lead from automobile exhaust, was deposited in soil. The more heavily traveled the road, the more lead "fallout" from exhaust. Lead has a long half-life, meaning it will remain in the soil for hundreds of years.
Lead commonly enters the body in two ways. It can be ingested/swallowed or inhaled. Chipping and peeling paint can accumulate around high-friction areas like doorways and windows in the interior of a home, as well as around the eave line of the home, where paint becomes weathered and falls to the ground. Leaded paint is sweet and tacky. It sticks to hands and fingers, where it can be ingested, making it more dangerous to children who tend to have more hand-to-mouth behaviors than adults.
Soil on or around heavily traveled roads can be stirred up by traffic, causing lead to be airborne, then flow through open windows and settle on surfaces inside the home, where it can be ingested or inhaled. A significant amount of lead can be found in the soil around homes located close to the road.
People who work in higher-risk occupations, such as road construction and home renovations, can bring lead home on their clothes and skin, where it can be inhaled or ingested by their young children. For these individuals, removing work clothes (washing them separately) and showering before they interact with their children is the best way to protect them from the dangerous effects of occupational lead.
For houses close to a heavily traveled road, wet-wiping and damp-mopping all surfaces, painted or not, in the home once weekly, especially floors, windowsills and window/door moldings, can decrease the risk of lead poisoning. Washing a child's toys once weekly is another way of decreasing exposure.
Frequent handwashing, with soap and running water, throughout the day, especially after playing outside, before every meal/snack and at bedtime, can significantly reduce your child's risk of lead exposure.
Play areas should be as far from the road as possible (for example, in the backyard instead of the front yard) and young children should only be allowed to play in grassy areas. Exposed leaded soil is a greater hazard than soil covered by grass or shrubs. Children should never be allowed to play on or around the eave line of a home that might have exterior lead paint. Remember, there could be layers of lead paint underneath layers of non-leaded paint. Even homes with synthetic siding may have lead in the soil – vinyl siding on an older home is suspect because it is often used to cover painted clapboards and deteriorating paint.
Finally, if you are planning to do renovations and your home was built prior to 1978, protect yourself and your family from lead risks by identifying possible risks before starting the work, using lead containment precautions outlined in the publication, Lead Paint Safety (EPA) and contacting the Chenango County Department of Environmental Health for information on reducing the risk of lead exposure. If you are planning to hire someone to do the work, make sure it is a NYS Lead-Certified Contractor.
Every Child in New York must be tested for Lead at age ONE and TWO.
Persons with questions or requiring additional information may contact the Chenango County Health Department at (607) 337-1660.