The bad news about lead contamination

Actually, all the news is bad

Lead has been around for a long time. The word plumbing comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum.

Lead was used as an inexpensive and reliable material for the vast network of plumbing that supplied Rome and its provincial cities with water. Even the Romans, however, were aware that lead was toxic, and they attempted to reduce their everyday contact with the metal.

A lot of toxins, such as Carbon Monoxide (CO), are not harmful at low levels. Some toxins are actually beneficial at low levels.

But lead? Nope

There is no level of lead that is not harmful. Even at low levels, lead is toxic to many organs of the body. It is especially dangerous because it can damage the brain and peripheral nerves. These nerves connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. It can cause permanent learning disabilities in children.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include;

  • irritability
  • poor muscle coordination
  • nerve damage
  • cognitive impairment
  • reproductive damage
  • coma
  • death, which pretty much trumps the rest

Is there ANY good news?

Yes! It’s actually quite easy to avoid contamination.

Lead in paint has been banned for nearly 60 years. Unless actually eaten, lead is encapsulated, and therefore poses a very low risk of ingestion. Chipped and peeling paint could pose a risk, so test it for lead with a kit from the hardware store before scraping or sanding.

There may be lead in soil, so children playing in the dirt should wash their has and feet with soap and water.  In a house that has lead pipes, let the water run for 30 seconds before using it for cooking or drinking. And use cold water for tea and coffee; lead dissolves in hot water faster than cold.

So being afraid of lead is a little like being afraid of trains; stay off the tracks and worry about something else.