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 Antiques Lead Poisoning

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The rustic farmhouse look has been very popular all over the country in the last decade. Some DIY television programs have shown viewers how to use antique corbels, doors, windows, and décor to make their homes look rustic and “lived in”. The charm of an antique door with chipping paint has been all the rage.

What most people don’t know is that the majority of those antique pieces are full of lead. Lead paint was used prior to 1978 on houses, doors, windows, trim, furniture, toys, jewelry, books, magazines, ceramic ware, leaded crystal, and stained glass, among many other things. Even now, lead is still used to make car keys and is still added to household objects and toys.

Lead paint will deteriorate over time, chip off and create lead dust. This lead dust is then breathed in by everyone around it. Lead paint also has a sweet taste to it. This makes children want to peel chipping paint and eat it. It also makes them want to chew on wood painted with lead paint like windowsills and even doors. Doors, windows, and siding are significant sources of lead in older homes.

What happens when lead enters the body? Adults are affected by lead causing them to have issues with their central nervous system, high blood pressure, and it affects many other organs. However, the greatest and most devasting damage is done to the fetus and children under the age of six.

Lead causes the most damage to the central nervous system. This includes the brain, brain connections, and mental, physical, and behavioral development. The damage caused by lead is permanent. Damage can be anywhere from mild to severe and has even resulted in death. In pregnant women, it could cause loss of pregnancy if lead exposure is severe enough.

New products are tested and regulated to contain a limited amount of lead. Every year the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls products due to high amounts of lead. However, antiques are not tested and, therefore, cannot be regulated or recalled. Antique stores and antique salvage stores are full of items containing lead paint. When these products are brought into the home, they expose children and pregnant women to lead.

In the last three years in this health district, there have been at least a dozen children under the age of three whose exposure to lead came from antique pieces used as décor and furniture in their home. One family had a pair of beautiful corbels they got at an antique salvage shop. They had chipping paint and came from an old home, most likely from the 1920s or older. They were being used in a kitchen peninsula as accents. This was in the middle of the home and hung just above the two-year-old’s head. The corbels themselves tested positive for lead, and the level of lead dust on the floor that came from these corbels were well above the level of concern. Another home had a coffee table made from an antique door covered in the original chipping lead paint. The child’s toys were stored under this table, and he ate his snacks off this table every day. There were other antique doors and windows hanging throughout the home - all contained lead paint.

Parents and family members who restore antique furniture and painters who work on older homes have higher rates of exposure. The lead paint that is sanded and blasted turns into lead dust that clings to their clothes, boots, hair, and body. They then take this lead home and expose their children and expectant partners to lead dust.

These are only the cases we know about. There are many more children exposed to these antiques, but parents are unaware because the number of children being tested for lead is very low. It is crucial that children under the age of six are routinely tested for lead. It is very important that parents are knowledgeable about lead and where it is found so they can avoid the lead exposure and harm that goes with it.