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New Study Finds Lead in and Around Puget Sound Homes

Seattle, WA – In a study released today, environmental health advocacy group Toxic-Free Future found lead in house dust, soil, and drinking water in and around Puget Sound area homes. The report Hidden Danger: Lead in Puget Sound Homes assesses key sources of children’s exposure to lead in the home environment.

Lead exposure poses a particular risk to developing fetuses and children, so the study tested 34 homes with families with young children, pregnant women, or women planning a pregnancy. No safe level of lead exposure has been identified, and effects of exposure range from slowing growth to learning and behavioral problems.

To screen for lead in their homes, participants completed an online survey about their homes, then received a tailored test kit with instructions based on the survey responses. Participants collected samples and sent them to a commercial laboratory for analysis.

The study found the following sources of lead in homes:

  • DUST: Lead was detected in every sample of vacuum dust in the study. Floor dust samples from more than one quarter (29%) of households had concerning levels of lead, and levels in two homes were above federal standards.
  • SOIL: Soil from children’s play areas contained lead at levels of concern at more than a quarter of homes (27%). Lead was present at levels of concern in 17 of garden soil samples.
  • WATER: Water was tested at “first flush” (immediately after turning on the tap), as well as after the tap had run for 45 seconds, and after 5 minutes. Lead was found at concerning levels in 15% of homes at “first flush,” and in 4% of homes after a 5-minute flush.

“Even though government banned lead in paint and gasoline decades ago, too many kids today are still exposed to this toxic metal that harms their ability to learn and grow. We found lead at levels of concern inside and outside of homes, showing we need to do better in getting lead out of our children’s home environments,” said Erika Schreder, science director with Toxic-Free Future.

The Washington Department of Health considers lead-based paint the most common source of lead exposure in the state. Lead-based paint was widely used in homes before it was banned for consumer use in 1978. Homes built before this date—especially those with chipping or peeling paint—are more likely to pose a risk to inhabitants. Studies have found that kids living in poverty or in older housing are more likely to have high levels of lead in their bodies.

Other organizations in the Puget Sound region have joined Toxic-Free Future in sounding the alarm about lead exposure.

“The Somali Health Board (SHB) is working with a team of community-based organizations and Seattle-King County Public Health to raise awareness about lead exposure in immigrant, refugee, and African American communities in King County. This new study highlights the urgency of our work; it demonstrates the ways in which children are exposed to lead in the home. Parents have plenty to worry about, and whether their homes are exposing their kids to lead should not be a concern,” says Ahmed Ali, Executive Director of Somali Health Board, which aims to reduce and eliminate health disparities that disproportionately affect the Somali immigrant/refugee community.

“Living Well Kent has been in partnership with many community-based organizations (along with Toxic-Free Future and PHSKC) to raise awareness about lead and the risks in a culturally appropriate way. This study accurately reflects what we have been educating to the communities who are the most vulnerable, and most effected. We hope the information gathered from this study will further push for more education and advocacy around lead issues,” says Hoda Abdullahi of Living Well Kent.

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is calling for more action to protect communities in the Puget Sound region from lead. Specifically, TFF urges the following governmental action:

  • All children should have their blood lead levels tested. It’s important to identify high lead levels early in order to minimize sources and prevent further exposure.
  • State and local governments should require landlords to inspect rental housing for lead. The Washington State Department of Health estimates that nearly 150,000 rental units in the state currently contain lead hazards. Requiring landlords to inspect rental housing for lead would protect renters from exposure to lead in their homes.
  • State and local governments should give financial assistance for home repairs to reduce lead exposure.
  • Ongoing community education should be provided to help families learn how to minimize their children’s lead exposure.

In the meantime, there are steps that families can take to help reduce their children’s lead exposure.

“Keeping kids away from chipping or peeling paint, handwashing, wet mopping floors and dusting, and letting water run before drinking are steps families can take to reduce lead exposure,” added Schreder. “Families should also learn about safer practices to minimize lead exposure before starting renovation projects.”

For more information about the study, see Toxic-Free Future’s research page.

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Stephanie Stohler, [email protected]

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