Featured Stories

Free classes help homeowners get the lead out

by: David F.  Ashton, Perry Cabot, workshop coordinator of the City’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, tests a harmless looking dish – and discovers toxic levels of lead.

Toxic levels of lead are often found in older homes. But you may be surprised to learn that lead can also hide in newly-remodeled residences. Right now, you may have this very dangerous 'heavy metal' right in your home, out where your kids can play in it.

Even small amounts of this dangerous substance damage the body's nervous system connections - especially in young children - 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 5th.

'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 our 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.'

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!'

We ask about the likelihood that, in the oldest of homes in Inner Southeast Portland, we could be poisoned by lead water pipes.

'In very old homes, there may be lead pipes,' Cabot replies. 'But, more than likely, the pipes in older homes are made of cast iron or galvanized steel.'

Instead, he reveals to our surprise, it is homes built, or remodeled, primarily between 1970 and 1985 that are more at risk from lead in the plumbing. 'The risk is that copper pipes are sealed together with lead-based solder. So, it's 'middle aged' plumbing that imparts the highest risk. When water sits in lead-soldered copper pipes for hours, some lead can leach into it.'

Cabot says he doesn't scare homeowners about the dangers of lead poisoning--he simply educates them on how to be safe, by presenting free Lead Poisoning Prevention Workshops from the 'Community Energy Project'.

'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 when they are about one year, then again at two years of age. It should be routine screening.'

At the workshop, Cabot tells participants about expensive and cheap ways to test their homes 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.'

In homes of any age, Cabot goes on, lead can be found in unexpected places: 'I was surprised to learn that 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 these blinds break down in the sun, lead can become accessible in the home.'

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

'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 eventually 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 be safe from lead poisoning, and get more information on the frequent no-cost Lead Poisoning Prevention Program workshops, by visiting the Internet website: www.CommunityEnergyProject.org. Or, call 503/284-6827.