What is lead?

Lead is a soft, malleable solid, considered one of the heavy metals. It has a bluish-white colour when first cut, but it tarnishes to a dull grey when exposed to air. When melted into a liquid, it develops a shiny, chrome-silver lustre.

Where is lead found in my home? 

Lead is commonly found in the following household items: paint typically applied to pipes, mechanical equipment, and window and door framing; solder on pipes; as glaze on older ceramic tile, batteries, or mini-blinds; paint applied to toys and costume jewelry. Lead was used in gasoline until 1973, when the government began a gradual phase-out. High levels of lead can still be found in the water and soil next to major highways.

Out of all lead sources, it is lead-based paint that’s considered to be the most dangerous to your health.

What are the consequences to my health from lead exposure?

There are two main routes to exposure: inhalation and ingestion. Lead inhalation typically happens on construction sites, where dust can be created by grinding, or fumes from welding torches. The fumes are easily inhaled by nearby workers, and travel through the windpipes before attaching themselves to the lungs.

Ingestion exposure happens when an individual handles food or cigarettes without washing the lead dust from their hands and clothes first. Ingestion is also a major problem for small children, who can swallow interior paint-chips due to the chips’ sweet taste. Consequently, lead paint used for interior surfaces and toys has been continually phased out of production since the 1970s.

Once in the bloodstream, lead travels along with the blood to the kidney. Kidneys purify the blood before it is distributed for use throughout the rest of the body. However, the kidney is not effective at removing lead, so much of the lead is distributed to other organs via the bloodstream, where it can be stored. Lead can also be stored in bones, in organs, and in fatty tissue. It can be slowly released through your body over a period of years.

Toxic effects are usually broken up into two categories: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term).

Acute effects manifest quickly after serious exposure. Excessive exposure to lead can result in a variety of symptoms including a metallic taste in your mouth; stomach pain and vomiting; diarrhea and black stools. Severe exposure can cause nervous system damage, with symptoms such as intoxication, coma, respiratory arrest and even death.

Chronic effects take some time before they begin to develop and are often attributed to low-dose exposure over many years. Those symptoms include loss of appetite; constipation; nausea and stomach pain. Other reported symptoms include excessive fatigue, weakness, weight loss, insomnia, headache, irritability, fine tremors, numbness, dizziness, anxiety and hyperactivity—because these are common in a variety of health problems, they can be overlooked.