Elemental lead is a naturally occurring, bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in rock and soils. Lead has no distinctive taste or smell. Lead and lead compounds are used in storage batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), roofing, gasoline, and devices to shield people from x-rays, among many other products. Because of health concerns, lead has been banned from gasoline, ceramic products, paints for residential use, and solder used on food cans.
Industrially, lead and lead-contaminated dusts are released into the environment from the burning of fossil fuels or waste. Workplace exposures come mostly from dusty environments. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust from this type of paint are the primary sources of lead exposure within the home. Preventing adverse health effects to children resulting from lead exposure remains a major public health effort. Poisoning occurs from swallowing lead (i.e. lead paint chips) or from breathing lead paint dust. Even small amounts of chipped lead paint or lead dust can be dangerous to children. Children face the great risks because their growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adult bodies do. In the United States about 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 have an above normal blood-lead level.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, and headaches. Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties in pregnancy, other reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorder, memory and concentration problems, and muscle-joint pain.
While there are many sources of lead in the human environment, lead-based paint hazards in residential housing are considered the primary source of lead exposure. In 1978 the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint. If you live in a home or building built before 1978, however, it is very possible that lead paint was used. Peeling paint is a clear signal that lead paint may have been used in your home.