Free classes help homeowners how to ‘get the lead out’

Toxic levels of lead is often found in older homes. But you may be surprised to learn where lead can hide in newly-remodeled residences. Read this, and learn how to easily protect yourself — and your loved ones — from the avoidable tragedy of lead poisoning ‚Ķ

Perry Cabot, workshop coordinator of the Portland’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, tests a harmless looking dish ‚Äì and discovers toxic levels of lead.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Right now, you may have a very dangerous “heavy metal” in your home, out where your kids can play in it.

Even small amounts of it damage the body’s nervous system connections ‚Äì especially in young children ‚Äì and it causes blood and brain disorders.

The culprit: Lead.

No, the problem isn’t found in pencils; they’re made with graphite.

“Indeed, lead is a poisonous metal,” says Perry Cabot, workshop coordinator of the City’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at a class he’s conducting at the Sellwood Community Center on February 5.

There’s no way to ‘get the lead out’
“Lead is toxic because it is a heavy metal that is persistent in our environment, and it is a bio-accumulative metal. This means, when it gets in our body, it stays there for one’s entire life. It isn’t excreted. The more lead we take in, the more that stays there,” he says.

Cabot pointed out that lead is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and to children because it damages the brain of the developing fetus. It also damages the brains of young, developing children. “Sadly, the damage is permanent. Kids never recover from it.”

Typical sources of lead contamination
Lead is chiefly found in older, lead-containing house paint, Cabot explains. “When old paint is sanded, or breaks down into dust, it’s usually a very fine dust. Kids playing in the area can easily transfer this dust from their hands to their mouths and faces. This hand-to-mouth contact is a common source of poisoning of children today.”

Sherrie Smith, the program’s outreach coordinator adds, “Many people remodel at this time of year. Remember, more than 50% of lead poisoning cases happen because of in-home remodeling.”

Lead poisoning unlikely from very old pipes
We ask about the likelihood that, in the oldest of homes in East Portland, one could be poisoned by lead water pipes.

“In very old homes, there may be lead pipes,” Cabot responds. “But, more than likely, the pipes are cast iron or galvanized steel.”

Instead, it is homes built, or remodeled, primarily between 1970 and 1985 that are more at risk, Cabot said. “The risk is that copper pipes are joined together with lead-based solder. ‘Middle aged’ plumbing imparts the highest risk. When water sits in the pipes for hours, some lead can leach into it.”

Cabot shows participants how to use the free lead-testing tools they receive as a registered participant of the lead-safe workshops.

Workshop teaches how to be “lead safe
Cabot says he doesn’t scare homeowners about the dangers of lead poisoning–he educates them on how to be safe, by presenting free Lead Poisoning Prevention Workshops.

“We tell people what lead is, what makes it dangerous, the most common sources of lead, and how we test our bodies and homes for lead. Also, we show people how to prevent lead from getting into us in the home environment.”

It’s easy to test blood for lead, Cabot explains. It is a simple pin-prick test available at the free, bimonthly Josiah Hill III Clinic. “We recommend testing for all children at about one year, then at two years of age. It should be routine screening.”

Testing your home
At the workshop, Cabot tells participants about expensive and cheap ways to teat for lead.

Cabot breaks out free testing materials for the registered class members. “The Community Energy Project provides some very useful and effective free dust-testing kits for people who attend our workshops. We also recommend–and give out in the class–a free “Lead-Check” swab.

Surprise hiding places
In homes, Cabot instructs, lead can be found in unexpected places.

“We were surprised vinyl mini-blinds imported from China may contain unacceptable levels of lead. One wouldn’t think mini-blinds are lead-coated, nor have lead added to them. But when they break down in the sun, lead becomes accessible in the home.”

Regulations are lax about the use of lead in overseas product manufacturing plants, Cabot says.

“You’d be surprised to learn the number of lead-contaminated children’s toys and jewelry sold at dollar-type stores. They’re cheap, colorful, and very attractive to children. When the lead is found in them, there are massive recalls. But many times we don’t find the lead until entire the lot has been distributed and sold.”

Learn how to safe from lead poisoning
Get more information on the frequent no-cost Lead Poisoning Prevention Program workshops by going to – or call (503) 284-6827.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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