Charming older homes: Make mine unleaded

The surface paint used on Thomas’ caboose, children’s jewelry or Baby Einstein color blocks for infants, has righteously given all mass-produced toys manufactured in China the stink eye lately. That’s because lead paint is dangerous stuff, especially to children under six.

It’s a substance that has the ability to kill when ingested in a high dose, but most often, it just does slow, sure, serious damage. For one thing, even low levels of lead impersonate iron in a child’s system, stubbornly blocking the nutrient, which is so necessary to their physical and mental development, from being absorbed. It can lower IQ, cause ADD or behavioral problems, stunt growth, cause hearing impairment, and more.

The fact is, we are all exposed to it constantly, in many places that aren’t as obvious or automatically alarming as Elmo’s friendly countenance. A pollutant that’s heavy, but able to reduce to very fine dust, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of. And it was extensively used to build and manufacture all kinds of things in America before (many would also say well after) its risks were understood. It’s embedded in soil close to major roadways where millions of cars and trucks cruised through, fueled by leaded gasoline, for decades. And if you live in a house built before 1978 (especially if it was built before 1960), there’s a good possibility it’s in your home, water or soil. If you’ve had your children tested for lead, you likely know that most of us have some amount of it in our blood because it’s everywhere in varying degrees. The danger lies in how much of it you are in contact with.

Since we faced a brief (and thankfully now past) situation with this, I’ve walked through the lovely older homes of many of my fellow parents and realized just how common this toxin is. It’s important to know what to look for. Risky houses exist in upscale suburbs of a town like mine as well as the inner city.

If you live in an old and charming place, as I do, and have a young child (or even one who visits you regularly), consider having a risk assessment or inspection done. Know that older doors and windows are a common source for lead chips or dust, because they can release it into he atmosphere every time they are opened and closed. Only wet dusting and/or using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can effectively eliminate the dust.

Other things I suggest for prevention at your home, or whenever visiting an older home, based on experience:

  • Make handwashing a regular routine for yourself, and your children, from the moment that they begin scooting around on the floor.
  • There’s a good reason that pediatricians want you to give your baby those awful-tasting vitamin drops for the first two years. It’s important that that infants, toddlers and kids have the right amount iron and calcium in their diet. A full store of iron in the body can help prevent the lead from being absorbed long-term.
  • Wash toys regularly, particularly during the early developmental phases when babies and toddlers constantly put things in their mouths.
  • If you can’t afford to replace windows and doors that may have coats of lead-based paint, they need to be repainted every couple of years. (Note: you risk poisoning yourself and everyone in your house if you try to scrape the paint yourself.)
  • Make lead safety a consideration in any home improvement project you do.
  • If you suspect old pipes in your wall, use filtered drinking water if you can, and let the tap run for 30 seconds before using water for cooking.
  • Don’t buy cheap ceramic and painted plastic items from discount and dollar stores (Walmart and Target included). Products marketed to adults seem to go through even less rigorous screening than those for children, even though many are going to homes with children in them.
  • I love antiques, but be careful with those that are painted/distressed. Consider having them tested.There are many more suggestions here.

Today’s post is in honor of Blog Action Day.

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