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Another Source of Lead in Homes

October 08, 2000

"Lead Paint's Dangers" (Real Estate Letters, Sept. 24), correctly states that lead paint, in good condition, is not necessarily a hazard, unless it is abraded.

In 1954, when the current standard treatment of lead poisoning was developed, we used to try to diagnose it by looking for paint chips in the intestine with a pediatric fluoroscope. When we designed a simple chemical laboratory test of blood we found many children with clinical signs of lead poisoning who did not have intestinal paint chips. It soon became clear that the lead to which the children had been exposed was in the dust on the floors of their homes.

In fact, even though the practice of using lead paint in houses has been abandoned for many years, children are still found, occasionally, with slightly elevated levels of lead in their blood, particularly if they eat food dropped on the floor or put things picked up from the floor into their mouths. This is not confined to old houses, as is commonly stated. It can be found on the dirty floors of relatively new homes, never painted with lead.

Where does this lead come from? For more than 30 years it was approved practice to add organic lead to gasoline. When the gasoline burned, the lead fell to the ground as a fine powder. This stopped many years ago, but lead is not easily washed away by rain. The soil is saturated with lead, and it is brought into the houses as dirt and dust on bare feet, shoes and animal feet. Elevated blood lead should be rare among the children of people who leave their shoes and pets at the door of their homes.

By far, the most common source of lead ingested by children in the home is not from paint, but lead walked into our homes by us and our pets.


Los Angeles

Dr. Bessman is a USC emeritus professor of pharmacology, nutrition and pediatrics.

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