Lead, as used in lead-based paint (LBP), was a staple of the coatings industry in the United States for well over 100 years. Lead, in different compounds, appeared to be the all-purpose solution to any painting problem. Adding lead to paint increased its durability, because the tiny lead molecules carried the paint into pores and other irregularities of the surface being coated. In addition, various lead compounds enhanced colors, promoted drying, and had many other advantages.
There was just one problem-lead is extremely poisonous. The most devastating effects are seen in children during the period of neurological development. Many health authorities consider the ages of six months to six years to be the most critical. Six months is the average age at which children become mobile. In addition to crawling, they engage in a lot of hand-to-mouth activity, which can result in the ingestion of lead dust. Very small amounts of lead (three granules of lead dust) can poison a child. Lead poisoning can cause irreversible IQ loss, and behavioral, hearing, and coordination problems. Although children under age six are most vulnerable, lead poisoning can cause damage at any age. Individuals exposed at any time in their lives may develop hypertension, anemia, kidney damage, or neurological damage. Women may experience pregnancy-related problems, including low birth weights and even miscarriage.
Many developed countries restricted or banned LBP for residential purposes beginning in the mid- to late 1800s. The United States, however, did not ban LBP for residential use until 1978 and approximately 38 million pre-1978 U.S. dwellings contain lead-based paint. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost a quarter of a million children aged 1-5 have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. The good news is that number is a fraction of what it was in the early 1990's, thanks to federal, state, local and industry efforts to reduce lead exposure, such as the ban on lead in paint and gasoline. However, there is no safe level of lead exposure and lead paint poisoning affects over one million children today.Continue reading on the BPA eJournal