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Your family is exposed to lead in the following ways:

  1. Air

Though lead is no longer released into the atmosphere through car exhaust, it is still a byproduct of many industrial processes. So airborne pollution can contain a certain amount of lead. In 1967 Wesley Marx reported that there was 500,000 tons of lead fallout annually. A report by geochemists at the California Institute of Technology reported that lead from auto exhaust was raining down into the North Pacific and North Atlantic at a rate 50-times that of which nature would have introduced it in the past. (Marx, 1967) While much of this lead spigot has since been cleaned up, it’s left a toxic legacy that will be around for centuries.

  1. Soil

Some lead in the soil is natural, and there can even be geological hot spots where the soil naturally contains more lead than in other places. Yet most lead in the soil comes from past contamination. Fallout from factories that once melted lead batteries or processed lead in furnaces for pipes and other products can remain in the top few inches of soil for hundreds of years. (Young & Eisler, 2012) Because of the lead used in gasoline, the soil near major highways and roadways is another hot spot for contamination. The lead released into the air through car exhaust was most concentrated within a couple hundred yards of either side of the roadway.

  1. Water

Lead can also come from drinking water, either because the water supply itself is contaminated or because lead is still found in the pipes of older homes or the water systems that connect to them. When these pipes rust and degrade, lead leeches into the drinking water.

  1. Your home

Lead-based paint was common in homes built before 1978, and 38 million homes – or around half of all homes built before 1978 – still contain lead. ( Koch , 1-19-2012 ) Children are exposed through paint flakes or lead in the dust. It can also exist in fixtures: old porcelain-enameled sinks and bathtubs are another potential source of lead.

  1. Commercial products

Lead is still used in many commercial products. Artists can be at higher risk for lead poisoning because some of their art supplies contain lead. Most parents are familiar with the scare of lead-tainted toys from China. And although we’ve removed lead from most paint in the U.S., it can still be used as a metal in other products in places deemed “inaccessible.” This can pose a problem as materials degrade or if it’s used in something small enough for a child to swallow.

The most common sources of lead

Bruce Lanphear conducted a study of children in Rochester, New York, and found that about 20% of their lead levels could be attributed to water, 10% to 15% contaminated soil, and 20-30% from other sources such as paint dust. The other 35% to 50% was unexplainable. (Ungar, 3-21-2016)


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