Sources of Lead

In a residential setting there are three main sources where lead may be found. These are water, soil and paint. Each of these can be tested during an Environmental Assessment to determine if there is lead present. The Health Department provides this service at no cost for children who are residents of Jasper County and who have an elevated blood lead level.

Water is seldom found to contain high levels of lead in Jasper County but samples are always taken for analysis during an Environmental Assessment because it is a possible source. Well water is more likely to contain lead, however; it is still uncommon to find well water contaminated with lead in this area. Although city water is even less likely to contain lead, there is still a possibility that it could be contaminated due to the plumbing in the home. Well water can also become contaminated due to plumbing. Many older homes have lead pipes or contain other plumbing components with lead solder. Also plumbing fixtures made of brass or bronze may contain lead. Because the water in our area contains a large amount of mineral, it is common for the inside of the pipes to be coated with a thick layer of mineral which prevents the water it carries from ever coming in contact with the pipes. This may be an inconvenience in some cases, but it does help to reduce the risk of lead contaminated water in older homes.

Lead contamination in soil is a major concern in this area because of the mining and smelting that were major economic activities in this county for about 120 years. Lead from smelting has settled out of the air and into the soil in some areas. Mining waste that was left above ground has spread around and in some cases has even been used in sandboxes or as material for driveways or foundations. Some soil has also become contaminated with lead from paint containing lead which has chipped off of buildings and fallen into the soil. Soil near very busy streets may also contain lead from the use of leaded gasoline in automobiles during the early 1920's into the 1980's. During an Environmental Assessment, small amounts of soil are taken from near the surface to be analyzed for lead content.

Until 1978, when commercial use was outlawed, it was very common for house paint to contain lead. Leaded paint could last longer, be more brightly colored and resist fading and mildew. Because of this it was commonly used on the exteriors of buildings and around windows and doors. Unfortunately its use has been very widespread and it is poisonous if it enters the body. Most houses built before 1978 contain some lead paint. If the paint remains intact it would not be considered a hazard; however, if the paint begins to chip or peel it could potentially harm occupants of the home. Lead paint has a sweet taste and a young child may be likely to eat the chips of paint if they discovered the sweet taste. Small children may even chew on a painted surface such as a window sill. Also, if dust was created from the lead paint it would be fairly simple for the dust to get onto the hands of a child and then into their mouth. Dust can be created when the paint chips, or, more often, from the friction created when door or window components rub together when being opened or closed. Also, dust can be created during remodeling or sanding activities. The Jasper County Health Department has a machine that can test the lead content of paint within seconds without disturbing the painted surface.

Besides these three main sources of lead there are several other places lead may be found in the home:

  • toys
  • jewelry
  • porcelain or pottery especially imported
  • food stored, baked or served in poorly glazed pottery or leaded crystal
  • food packed in cans with lead seams (no longer used in U.S.)
  • food grown near sources of lead
  • imported or homemade food, candy, or folk medicines, or cosmetics
  • dust on clothing, shoes or hands of someone who has an occupation or hobby using lead
  • antique pewter
  • drapery and window weights
  • imported plastic blinds
  • plastic coatings on wiring
  • imported plastic Christmas trees
  • fishing weights
  • battery casings