Getting the Lead Out: The Complete Resource on How to Prevent and Cope with Lead Poisoning

By Irene Kessel; John T. O'Connor | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER TWO

The Sources of Lead Poisoning

LEAD IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Lead poisoning is referred to as an environmental disease because it is caused by exposure to lead in our daily surroundings. Although we cannot see, taste, or smell it, lead is everywhere in our environment. It is not just in the obvious places, such as the emissions from a lead smelter or the peeling paint in an old house, but also in our air, water, soil, and dust.

Even if we were to eliminate all uses of lead, most of the hundreds of millions of tons of lead already present in our air, soil, plumbing, and homes would remain there. 1 Lead is PERSISTENT in the environment. Because lead is an element, once it is mined from the ground, it does not degrade as do organic materials, but rather remains in the environment forever, whether it is in use or disposed of in some way. Our soil is full of it. Our walls are painted with it. Our plumbing is made or joined with it. And our industries still use tons of it every day.

We are still haunted by the ghosts of our past uses of lead. In spite of the phasing out of leaded gasoline and prohibitions and controls on lead-based paint and other uses of lead, overall lead consumption was down only 2% from 1970 to 1989 and figures for the early 1990s show consumption actually increasing slightly from that date. 2 Although lead-based paint has been banned from use in housing units, more than 64 million homes in this country still bear the lead paint they were painted with before 1978. 3

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