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About Lead

History of Lead Paint

Children and Exposure to Lead


About Lead

Lead is a highly toxic substance and exposure to it is known to cause a variety of health problems in children. These injuries, which are often irreversible, will affect children throughout their lives and may impede their future success. The National Safety Council estimates that there are more than 400,000 children under the age of six who have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Children can be exposed to lead in several ways. The most common way, however, is for children to come in contact with lead-based paint in their own homes. Through chewing on woodwork or just common hand to mouth contact, children can unintentionally ingest lead particles. Any child living in a house built prior to 1978 could be at risk for lead poisoning and should be tested.

You deserve to be well informed and aware of the dangers of lead so that you can protect the people dearest to you. We hope that this site will educate you about the history of lead paint, and its dangerous health effects as well as help you learn to prevent lead exposure from devastating your family

History of Lead Paint


The process of making pure white lead pigment has ancient origins. One of the first methods was called the “Dutch Process” and was developed in the 17th century. The first step in this process was for workers to take the dull, bluish gray, metallic lead to the smelter to be recast in the shape of large thin belt buckles. The lead buckles were then corroded with acid in the presence of carbon dioxide. Next, these lead buckles were stacked inside ceramic pots that contained a few ounces of diluted acetic acid, usually vinegar. The stack room was filled with layers of spent, tanbark filled pots, and boards until the stack almost touched the ceiling. After 6-14 weeks, the chemical reaction was complete and the blue bed was transformed into a white bed. Often times the white lead encrusting the buckles grew so thick it would crack the ceramic pots.

The workers would then disassemble the white beds by dumping the ceramic pots onto separating tables, hand scrapping and pounding the flaky lead carbonate from the buckles. Some factories used mechanical separators operated by workers to perform this task. After this process, the powder was dried and put into wooden caskets for shipment. White lead pigment was then added to linseed oil, other pigments, and turpentine to create lead-based paint.

The formation and usage of lead pigments were known over a century ago to cause serious illness and in some cases death among workers and the public. Workers became ill in all steps of the manufacturing process and in the application of the paint. Many suffered from painter’s colic, better known as plumbism, which is a toxic condition produced by the absorption of excessive lead into the system. Often workers were sent to the hospital for lead poisoning within the first month of employment.

In 1910, the House of Representatives committee conducted a hearing for a bill that may have kept lead-based paint off American walls. At this hearing Marion E. Rhodes testified that, “the most eminent scientists and doctors of Great Britain…reached the conclusion that white lead is poison…the small particles that result from chalking…when taken by inhalation into the lungs, are absorbed and become poison to the system.” A separate bill was introduced to the house in May 1910 which, in the interest of public health, called for federal intervention in regulating the manufacture, sale, and use of any paint containing white lead. This bill also included a measure to require all lead-based paints to be “labeled with a skull and crossbones and the words Poison: white lead.” These warnings went unheeded.

The president of the National Lead Company, Edward J. Cornish, admitted in a 1921 letter to the dean of Harvard Medical School, David Edsall, that “manufacturers as a result of fifty to sixty years experience, agreed that lead is a poison when it enters the stomach of man—whether it comes directly from the ores and mines and smelting works or from the ordinary forms of carbonate of lead, lead oxides, and sulfate and sulfide of lead”.

Not only had the paint manufacturers identified and admitted the dangerous nature of lead, the international community had as well. At the 1921 Third International Labor Conference of the League of Nations held in Geneva, 400 delegates from 40 nations discussed the regulation of the lead trade. The United States did not attend the Conference and did not agree to the resolution to ban lead-based paints from homes. It was not until 1977 that the federal government prohibited the use of lead paint from most residential applications. From 1910 through 1977, over 4,000 tons of lead pigments were used in homes and products throughout the United States.


Children and Exposure to Lead

The most common way that children are exposed to lead poisoning is through the ingestion of lead paint. Lead paint was widely used in homes and on toys throughout the United States until 1978, when the Consumer Products Safety Commission banned its use. Nonetheless, there are an estimated 38 million homes that still contain lead paint and another 25% of homes throughout the country that contain a lead hazard. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 434,000 children between the ages of one and five who have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Families that live in homes built before 1978, and especially those undergoing renovation, are at an increased risk of lead poisoning and should take extra precautions. Families should be aware of deteriorating, chipping, and flaking paint that could contain lead. The normal hand to mouth contact of children is enough to introduce dangerous levels of lead into the blood. According to the National Safety Council, it only takes a lead dust particle equivalent to the size of a single grain of salt for a child to register an elevated level of lead in his/her blood.

Identifying potential exposure areas where your child could come in contact with lead paint will reduce the risk of your child getting lead poisoning and suffering the negative health effects associated with it.



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Lead Paint 




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Vince Kotlarz - President, MA Licensed Home Inspector, performing home inspection services in Massachusetts (MA), New Hampshire (NH), and Rhode Island (RI).

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