The switch from leaded petrol to unleaded petrol was due to the introduction of catalytic converters in the exhaust systems in the early 1970s. Lead based anti-knock compounds would contaminate the catalyst in the catalytic converter by leaving a thin coating of lead on or reacting with catalyst rendering it ineffective and ultimately causing the converter to clog. Older vehicles without converters were allowed to continue using leaded fuel until it was phased out in the mid 1980s.
The thought that this lead was also getting into our air and contributing to the build-up in our bodies was not considered until later.
In the mid 1990s, imported vinyl mini-blinds were found to be another source of lead in the home. Lead is added to stabilize the plastic used in the mini-blinds. Over time this plastic deteriorates from sunlight and heat exposure to form lead dust on the surface of the blind.
Lead-based paint application was outlawed in the USA in 1978. Many European countries outlawed it decades before that.
That said, old homes build and painted before 1978 in the US are likely to have lead paint. The older the building, the higher the incidence. Lead-based paint IS NOT JUST A PROBLEM in LOW INCOME HOUSING!! Historically, lead poisoning has been highest and most damaging to kids in buildings which are not well maintained and in which the paint is deteriorating and chipping off. Since many young couples are buying older homes or other folks have bought them to restore, lead paint poisoning has shifted to be more prevalent in other economic categories.
Lead paint causes serious learning disabilities and other irreversible neurological damage in children. Schools noticed an increase in learning disabilities in young kids and anger and violence in teens. Blood testing revealed lead poisoning as often present. Many public health programs focus specifically on testing kids, replacing old windows and doors, and public education for all socio-economic classes. In adults, it can cause permanent damage to organs and even sexual dysfunctions.
In 2010 the EPA enacted the Repair, Renovation, and Painting (RRP) law requiring contractors disturbing more than 6 sq. ft of lead paint to use rigid lead dust and fume containment procedures. Home and building remodeling is the largest cause of lead poisoning in America. In addition, anywhere in a building where friction is created between surfaces painted with lead paint (such as doors and windows) invisible lead dust is created. It is NOT that kids chew on window sills! The dust created drops to the floor and kids ingest in from hand contact on the floor. Lead paint poisoning is totally preventable. America needs to wake up and demand that contractors use lead-safe work practices on old homes and public buildings. See www.leadsafeamerica.org and www.epa.gov/lead
All house paints sold in the United States and Canada are lead free. The only paints that contain lead are used in industrial applications and are should not be available for purchase to the general public. Lead is used in some artist oil whites, however, this is rare and the artist who uses them has to pay a premium to acquire them . Lead is not used in water based paints.
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