Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal. Due to its abundance and relatively low cost, lead is used in a variety of products including paint, ceramics, toys, batteries, and cosmetics. Lead exposure can cause damage to every system in the body, including permanent neurological damage such as decreased IQ. Because lead exposure frequently has no symptoms, people are often unaware that their bodies are being slowly poisoned.
Lead has been found to cause irreversible health effects including attention deficit, reduced IQ, learning disabilities, and speech and hearing impairments. Children are at greater health risk due to their smaller size and developing bodies that more readily absorb ingested lead. Research shows that children with severely elevated lead levels are six times more likely to have a reading disability as compared to those who do not.
Other health effects include:
- Learning disabilities
- Lack of muscular coordination
- Decreased fertility
- Increased blood pressure
- Memory and concentration problems
How we’re exposed
Exposure to lead comes primarily from household paints, toys, and jewelry. The most common source of lead is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978. This is a particular risk in Vermont, which has the second oldest housing stock in the nation. Lead is also found in a variety of household cleaning products, wood polishers, certain hair conditioners, air fresheners, pet care products, battery and ammunition production, and a variety of auto cleaning and finishing products.
In 2010, the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont helped push through legislation that bans lead from jewelry and children’s products, and also includes a disclosure requirement and phase-outs for other products containing lead. Despite our progress, there is alarming evidence that lead continues to threaten our health. Vermonters will spend an estimated lifetime cost of $52,000 in direct health care costs associated with lead exposure, $220,000 in special education, and $80 million in lost earnings. Steps we can take to reduce our lead exposure include: using cold water to prepare food and drinks, wiping and removing any paint chips, and washing toys and other plastic products often.