Getting the Lead Out
Pollution in People Report - Chapter 3 - Heavy Metals: Getting the Lead Out
More so than mercury, lead turns up in a frighteningly large array of consumer products, from art supplies and automobile components to PVC clothing, building materials, toys, lunchboxes, and even candy. Gasoline and paint are now lead-free in the United States and many other countries, but lead continues to be added to certain hair dyes and specialty paints (FDA 2002). And despite a 1978 ban, lead paint on the walls of old homes and buildings continues to be a primary source of lead exposure for children. Because of its slightly sweet taste, children commonly eat peeling lead-paint chips if they have access to them.
Most of us are exposed to lead through direct contact with lead-containing products, drinking lead-contaminated water, and through house dust into which lead from indoor and outdoor sources has settled. In certain areas and homes, contaminated soil and dust from lead paint are a significant source, particularly for children. Two of Washington’s now-shuttered smelters (facilities that process metals) emitted lead that deposited in soil. Soils are also contaminated by past use of the pesticide lead arsenate in orchards. Lead then enters our homes when we track it in on the bottom of our shoes.
Lead in the workplace can cause elevated levels both in the worker and in the worker’s family members (MMWR 2001). Workers can bring lead home on clothing and shoes. In our study, because the test was only sensitive enough to pick up relatively high levels, the only participant who tested positive was nurse Karen Bowman. Karen has regular occupational exposure through her nursing visits to workplaces such as machine shops and metal fabricating companies.