Health Impacts

Exposure to lead in housing poses a significant health risk to young children. When absorbed into the body, it is highly toxic to many organs and systems and seriously hinders the body’s neurological development. Lead is most harmful to children under age six because it is easily absorbed into their growing bodies and interferes with the developing brain and other organs and systems. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are also at increased risk, because lead ingested by the mother can cross the placenta and affect the unborn fetus.

Lead poisoning causes irreversible health effects and there is no cure for lead poisoning. At very low levels of exposure in children, lead causes reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioral problems. At low levels, lead poisoning may not present identifiable symptoms, and a blood test is the only way to know if a child is poisoned. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a blood lead level of 10 µg/dl as a level of concern, indicating that steps should be taken to reduce ongoing lead exposure, though research has shown that even lower levels of exposure can cause health problems.

At very high levels of exposure, which are now very rare in the U.S., lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and even death. Except for severely poisoned children, there is no medical treatment for this disease. While drug therapy can reduce high levels of lead in the body, it does not undo the harm caused to developing organs and systems.

As lead poisoning rates have declined nationally, the disparities of this disease have increased. In some communities, the rate of exposure is about five times the national average, which is estimated at 1.6 percent of children aged 1-5. In the U.S., children from poor families are more likely to be poisoned than those from higher income families. African-American children are also at increased risk, when compared with both Hispanic and white children.




Sources of Lead

The major remaining cause of lead poisoning is lead-based paint in housing, especially housing built before 1950, when lead paint was commonly used. Most children with elevated lead levels are poisoned in their own homes by peeling lead-based paint and the lead dust it generates. Lead dust settles quickly, is difficult to clean up, and is invisible to the naked eye. Young children usually are poisoned through normal hand-to-mouth activity, as lead dust settles on their toys and the floor. Children may also be seriously poisoned by eating lead-based paint chips, but this is relatively rare.

Two situations account for the vast majority of poisoning in children. Most commonly, children are poisoned by lead dust from deteriorated paint in poorly maintained older housing. A lesser number of cases—though often more serious—are caused by repainting and remodeling projects that disrupt old painted surfaces without proper safeguards to control, contain, and clean up lead dust. In both scenarios, small amounts of lead dust can create substantial health risks. For example, imagine the amount of sugar in a 1-gram packet. The same amount of lead particles evenly spread over 100 rooms, each measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, would leave dust levels of 100 µg/ft2, an amount of lead that is more than twice the federal standard (40 µg/ft2) for a hazardous level of lead on floors.

Housing age is an important predictor of risk, because the lead content of paint varied substantially over the past century. During the first half of the twentieth century, the lead content of paint was marketed as a measure of its quality—the more lead the better. Prior to about 1940, leaded paints typically contained high amounts of lead, ranging from 10 percent to as much as 50 percent. Lead was added to make paint durable, so lead paint was frequently used in high-traffic and high-moisture areas, including kitchens and bathrooms, exterior siding and trim, window and door trim, stairs, porches, etc. In the early 1950s, the paint industry began reducing lead content, although many paints still contained harmful amounts of lead. Federal regulations limited lead content in 1972 and effectively banned lead in residential paints in 1978.

While lead paint is a widespread problem, the mere presence of lead-based paint in a home is not a hazard, as about 40 percent of all U.S. housing contains some leaded paint, and the vast majority of children live safely in these homes and apartments.


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Lead Inspections in Maryland.  Parent company Lead Safety Solutions is accredited by the Maryland Department of the Environment Certificate #15844