Nutrition-wise blog

Get the lead out

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. February 9, 2016

Lead poisoning is in the news, but it's hardly new. Symptoms of lead poisoning were apparent in ancient Rome and included personality changes, sterility, stillbirth, mental incompetence and death. Lead was used to season food and preserve wine. It was found in pewter cups, plates, pots and pans. Ancient Rome had lead water pipes. Interestingly, even today lead poisoning is sometimes called "plumbism."

Because of the tragedy of lead-polluted water in Flint, Michigan, I got curious about lead in my tap water and other potential sources of lead in my home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the only way to know if tap water contains lead is to test it. You can also check with your water provider to see if the service pipe at the street (header pipe) has lead. If the service pipe does not have lead, then the plumbing (fixtures, pipes, faucets) in your home is the likely source.

In 1978, the federal government banned lead-containing paint. However, it is estimated that 24 million homes in the U.S. contain deteriorating lead-based paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. Furthermore, soil around older homes painted with lead-based paint can be contaminated when the paint flakes and peels.

Children and adults can ingest lead through contact with contaminated paint, dust and soil. The CDC recommends having your home inspected by a licensed lead inspector. Your local health department can provide more information on this. If your home has lead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you hire a lead-safe renovator — someone who knows how to minimize creation of lead-containing hazardous dust.

Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. Lead exposure puts pregnant women at risk for miscarriage, premature birth, smaller babies, and damage to the baby's brain, kidneys and nervous system. Infants and children under age 6 are growing quickly and their bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to lead damage. They are at risk for slow growth and development, damage to hearing and speech, attention deficits and lower academic achievement

Prompted by my research, I called my local water department. They were able to tell me that my service pipe does not have lead. I am still going to get my tap water tested. I accessed the EPA website and found a resource to come do a risk assessment that includes looking for lead in paint, dust and soil.

I'll let you know what I find out.

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Feb. 09, 2016