9 Ways to Prevent and Deal with Lead Poisoning

Lead Rules 4-6

Rule #4: Clean with a purpose. While there's some controversy about how much good cleaning can do if you have substantial lead dust in your home, in the absence of any conclusive results, we'll go with the suggested practices of just about every government agency we've looked at in this regard.

  • Keep dust to a minimum by wet-mopping regularly -- particularly sills, floors, and around the entrance -- and clean the mops and sponges thoroughly after use.
  • Avoid cleaning techniques and equipment that abrade or wear down painted surfaces, such as vacuum beater bars, mops with scrubber strips, abrasive cleaners, or steel wool.
  • Clean your kids' toys regularly, especially any teething toys or pacifiers.

And look at it this way: Even if the effectiveness of all this elbow grease isn't completely clear as far as lead dust is concerned, at least you'll be helping to mitigate other dust-driven maladies like asthma, allergies, and unpleasant-looking furniture.

Rule #5: Watch your family's diet and hygiene. Just add lead protection to the list of reasons why your family should stay away from fat, which increases lead absorption, and eat nutritious meals -- especially ones with lots of calcium and iron, which can help to minimize the body's ability to absorb lead (within limits). Calcium, however, can also reduce the body's ability to absorb iron, so ask your pediatrician how much calcium your children should be getting each day.

On the hygiene front, if the threat of colds is not enough of a reason, then the threat of lead ingestion should hopefully convince you to get all your kids in the habit of washing their hands (and faces) often, especially before meals, naps, and bedtimes. Finally, this should be a given but, whatever you do, don't let your tot chew on windowsills, doors, or painted furniture surfaces.

Rule #6: Don't ignore the dangers of renovation. We only know of one person who even considered lead when she was renovating her apartment -- and we know tons of people who have made glorious apartments out of wrecks. We're better informed now. If you're renovating a pre-1978 home, follow approved procedures for conducting the work. Both the EPA and your local health department provide guidelines, but essentially anything that disturbs a lead-painted surface -- like drilling, nailing, wall demolition, making holes for pipes or electrical wire or cable, scraping or sanding, etc. -- can create a major problem.

If you're in a potential lead-paint hazard area, there are steps you must follow that cover everything from sealing off work areas while the work's being done (ideally, keeping kids out of the home while the work's in progress) to covering furniture to cleaning up after it's all over. Just make sure that you and your contractor agree on what needs to be done and follow the rules religiously. And if you really want some peace of mind, think about having a hazard assessment done after you've finished it all and before the kids are back home.

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