An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Basic Information on Pollutants and Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
- Biological Pollutants
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Formaldehyde/Pressed Wood Products
- Lead (Pb)
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
- Radon (Rn)
- Respirable Particles
- Secondhand Smoke/ Environmental Tobacco Smoke
- Stoves, Heaters, Fireplaces, and Chimneys
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States." There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead: through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body when an individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it has settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.
Old lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. today. Harmful exposures to lead can be created when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning. High concentrations of airborne lead particles in homes can also result from lead dust from outdoor sources, including contaminated soil tracked inside, and use of lead in certain indoor activities such as soldering and stained-glass making.
National Lead Information Center Hotline
The National Lead Information Center (NLIC) provides the general public and professionals with information about lead hazards and their prevention. NLIC operates under a contract with the EPA, with funding from the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Sources of Lead
- Lead Health Effects
- Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead
- Additional Resources
- National Lead Information Center Hotline
[From "The Condensed Chemical Dictionary, 9th ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, 1977.] Metallic element of atomic number 82, Group IVA of the periodic table. Atomic weight 207.2; valences 2, 4; 4 stable isotopes. The isotopes are the end products of the three series of natural radioactive elements uranium (206), thorium (208), and actinium (207).
Properties: Heavy, ductile, soft gray solid. Sp. gr. 11.35; m.p. 327.4 °C; b.p. 1755 °C; soluble in dilute nitric acid; insoluble in water but dissolves slowly in water containing a weak acid; resists corrosion; relatively impenetrable to radiation. Poor electrical conductor; good sound and vibration absorber. Non-combustible.
Sources of Lead
Lead-based paint, contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water.
Lead Health Effects
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development. EPA's Integrated Risk Information System profile on Lead and Lead Compounds - epa.gov/iris/subst/0277.htm
The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children may have higher exposures since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.
Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead
- Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
- Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
- Do not remove lead paint yourself.
- Do not bring lead dust into the home.
- If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
- Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.
Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs with either a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime.
Reduce the risk from lead-based paint.
Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Do not burn painted wood since it may contain lead.
Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition, do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust (for example, opening a window).
Do not remove lead paint yourself.
Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust. Consult your state health or housing department for suggestions on which private laboratories or public agencies may be able to help test your home for lead in paint. Home test kits cannot detect small amounts of lead under some conditions. Hire a person with special training for correcting lead paint problems to remove lead-based paint. Occupants, especially children and pregnant women, should leave the building until all work is finished and clean-up is done.
For additional information dealing with lead-based paint abatement contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the following two documents: Comprehensive and Workable Plan for the Abatement of Lead-Based Paint in Privately Owned Housing: Report to Congress (December 7, 1990) and Lead-Based Paint: Interim Guidelines for Hazard Identification and Abatement in Public and Indian Housing (September 1990).
Do not bring lead dust into the home.
If you work in construction, demolition, painting, with batteries, in a radiator repair shop or lead factory, or your hobby involves lead, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes. You may also be tracking in lead from soil around your home. Soil very close to homes may be contaminated from lead paint on the outside of the building. Soil by roads and highways may be contaminated from years of exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Use door mats to wipe your feet before entering the home. If you work with lead in your job or a hobby, change your clothes before you go home and wash these clothes separately. Encourage your children to play in sand and grassy areas instead of dirt which sticks to fingers and toys. Try to keep your children from eating dirt, and make sure they wash their hands when they come inside.
Find out about lead in drinking water.
Most well and city water does not usually contain lead. Water usually picks up lead inside the home from household plumbing that is made with lead materials. The only way to know if there is lead in drinking water is to have it tested. Contact the local health department or the water supplier to find out how to get the water tested. Read more about Lead and Your Drinking Water. Call, for Consumer Information - 1-800-424-LEAD; Safe Drinking Water Hotline - 1-800-426-4791; Technical Information - 202-554-1404 for more information.
A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans. Dairy products are high in calcium. Do not store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. If you reuse old plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, with primary responsibility to:
- Develop programs and policies to prevent childhood lead poisoning.
- Educate the public and health-care providers about childhood lead poisoning.
- Provide funding to state and local health departments to determine the extent of childhood lead poisoning by screening children for elevated blood lead levels, helping to ensure that lead-poisoned infants and children receive medical and environmental follow-up, and developing neighborhood-based efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning.
- Support research to determine the effectiveness of prevention efforts at federal, state, and local levels.
Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website that includes information on grants, programs, regulations, guidance, and training related to household lead and lead hazards.