THE BLOG

Environmental Health Watch: Are There Toxins in Your Home?

05/13/2010 09:23 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Did you grow up in a house that was built before 1978? This story is about how one State's progressive Community Affairs Department is linking geographical information to potential environmental health risk information to help protect young children. If you're pregnant or have children or grandchildren younger than six who will spend any significant time in a house built before 1978, then read on!

Before my 6th birthday, I had already lived in several houses that were built long before 1977, when the US EPA ban on lead in paint took effect. This means that I am probably among millions of people who were most likely exposed to unhealthy levels of lead in my blood. Most of the lead in my blood probably came from simple things most children do -- licking or chewing the painted surfaces on tables, walls, staircase railings, doors, window casings and painted toys; or from a combination of breathing lead dust generated by sanded or chipped paint containing lead.

I am certain that I am not alone in having ingested more than a fair share of lead into my body during my first six years of life. Well, 32 years later, public health departments across the world are still on an aggressive mission to rid us of this toxic material, particularly from the bodies (and blood) of young children.  There are many other ways that lead could get into the blood of a child (i.e. lead water pipes, cosmetics made with lead, certain imported candies containing lead, cooking utensils made with lead, lead painted toys, and lead dust from making handcrafts). Public health experts go as far as to warn that pregnant women should not remain in a house built before 1978 that is undergoing remodeling (where old paint is being sanded and dust is not contained). 

At last count, over a quarter of a million children aged one to five years in the US alone have  unacceptable blood lead levels that are leading to learning disabilities, behavioral problems and, at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death. You can see how the State of New Jersey (Department of Community Affairs) allows you to check a dwelling address  to see if lead contamination has been detected or is in the process of being cleaned up. In some cases they tell you if it's a "lead free" dwelling. 

Public facing sites such as this, I strongly believe, are beginning to respond to the public's demand for environmental health transparency. Such web sites usher in a whole new dose of public empowerment. This site validates the notion that geomedicine's chief contribution will become  helping people "connect the dots "and take health knowledge to the next level by linking the "what" to the "where and "when" -- and at the household level since this is where most, if not all, of the clinical knowledge and environmental health impacts become relevant to each of us.

So, when you're buying your next house or getting ready to remodel your old one built before 1978, you may want to read this story next and see what happened on April 22, 2010 that could impact your remodeling project as well as the health of everyone who lives in your house.  Also, you may want to do some research on the blood lead screening rates and the lead poisoning case rates for the county you reside in now or plan to move into at this site. As always, I welcome second opinions.