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Common Sources of Lead at Home

Old Paint, Young Victims. FIRST OF 2 PARTS.


Lead-based paint, which was allowed for residential use in the U.S. until 1978, is now considered the main source of childhood lead poisoning.

The primary pathway for contamination is from the fine dust that spreads just about everywhere in a home as the paint deteriorates.

But there are other sources of potential lead contamination. In Los Angeles County, traditional home remedies and medicines used by some ethnic communities have caused serious lead poisoning.

According to the California State Department of Health Services, there are several ethnic remedies that can pose serious threats.

Two of the most common are Azarcon, a bright orange powder, and Greta, a yellow powder, both used in the Latino community for intestinal illnesses. The substances are almost 100% lead and are poisonous in any amount to children and adults.

Pay-loo-ah, a red powder used in the Hmong community and given for rash or fever is another dangerous compound. In the Asian Indian community, health officials warn against the use of Ghasard, a brown powder to aid digestion; Bala Goli, a flat, round black bean, and Kandu, a red powder, both used to treat stomach aches.

Also dangerous is Kohl or Alkohl, a powdered remedy used in the Arab-American community to treat skin infections, to put on the navel of newborn children and used as eye makeup.

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey of California children with lead poisoning showed 40 youngsters statewide poisoned by traditional home remedies in 1992, with nearly 60% of them living in Southern California.

Soil can be a source of lead. In most cases, lead in soil comes from paint chips that flake off a house or building, factory pollution and leaded gasoline, according to state health officials.

Soil naturally contains about 50 parts per million (ppm). Urban soil typically contains between 200 ppm and 500 ppm. Anything above 1,000 ppm is considered hazardous waste. Lead-contaminated soil is dangerous to children because it sticks to objects, such as toys and fingers, that children often put in their mouths. Lead poisoning experts recommend covering such soil, especially around the perimeter of the house, with grass, plants, rock, concrete or other ground cover.

Pottery and china is another potential lead hazard, according to a study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The study says some of the greatest risks come from old china, handed down from past generations, homemade or handcrafted china, pottery and china with highly decorated inside surfaces that touch the food or beverage and pottery or china with decorations on top of the glaze instead of underneath it.

Dishes with corroded glaze should be avoided at all times, EDF officials warn.

The risk of lead exposure depends on the particular dish and on how it's used. Some dishes are finished with lead-free or low-lead glazes. Those containing leads should not be used to store acidic foods and drinks, like tomato sauce and fruit juices.

And because heat can accelerate lead leaching, questionable dishes should not be heated up or used in a microwave.

The EDF provides a list of mail-order, home-test kits that cost between $20 and $30.

Less likely sources of lead include lead solder in some canned goods, mainly foreign canned goods produced in countries like Mexico.

Another is lead in water, but state health officials say except for a few isolated cases, lead in water is not a big problem in California.

Since 1986 lead solder in water pipes has been outlawed, and in pre-1986 pipes, the lead is usually encased in mineral deposits so that it is no longer a problem, say state and local health officials.

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