What is lead?
Lead is both a naturally-occurring metal and a highly toxic chemical to people and wildlife.
Sources and exposure
Lead exposure comes mostly from materials and products in and around our homes. Lead-based paint in homes is the most frequent cause of childhood lead poisoning, even though lead-based paint was banned in 1978. The widespread use of lead in paint and plumbing during much of the 20th Century means that everyone has some exposure to lead. Harmful effects can occur from relatively common everyday exposures.
Some metal and vinyl products may contain significant amounts of lead, which can leach out if these items are put in the mouth or accidentally swallowed. Children often put fingers, toys, and other objects in their mouths, exposing them to lead from soil, dust, paint, or other sources.
Toxicity and health effects
Lead can cause many different types of health problems, but children are more vulnerable than adults to lead’s toxic effects. The main concern for children is lead’s effect on brain development. High levels of lead are linked to decreased IQs and to antisocial behavior. In adults, lead exposure can lead to high blood pressure and kidney damage.
Taking action against lead
Ecology and the Washington State Department of Health conducted an extensive evaluation of lead exposure and developed recommendations to reduce or eliminate these sources. Our research determined that Washington’s top priority is addressing lead-based paint in older homes, since children are so vulnerable to poisoning from this source of lead.
State agencies and the governor have already addressed many of the recommendations from the chemical action plan.
Chemical action plan recommendations
Education and outreach
Reduce exposures from old paint and plumbing in homes, schools, and childcare centers
- Gov. Jay Inslee directed state agencies to determine feasibility of:
- a Lead Rental Inspection and Registry Program for pre-1978 housing.
- evaluating childcare facilities for sources of lead exposure.
- Washington Department of Commerce oversees the federal Renovation, Repair, Painting Program and works on lead hazard control programs.
Find and help children with elevated blood lead levels
- The Department of Health lowered the state definition of elevated blood lead level to be consistent with federal guidelines.
- The Department of Health developed new guidelines in 2015 for health care providers for testing children at higher risk for lead exposure and a map of areas with higher risks.
- Gov. Inslee directed the Department of Health to determine funding to transition to a more efficient system for the Childhood Blood Lead Registry.
- Ecology has been helping the Department of Health and local health departments to investigate causes of elevated blood lead with existing resources. Gov. Inslee directed the Department of Health to assess funding needs.
Reduce lead in current products and processes
- We work with state businesses to identify and reduce uses of lead in manufacturing and products.
- We test products for lead and other chemicals.
Reduce occupational exposure
- The Department of Labor and Industries is developing recommendations to update occupational lead standards and other future strategies to reduce worker lead exposures.
History of actions to address lead in Washington
2016 — Gov. Inslee directs the Washington State Department of Health and partner agencies to take steps to reduce lead exposure.
2010 — Washington bans the use of lead fishing tackle in 13 loon nesting lakes.
2009 — Washington bans the installation of lead wheel weights.
2009 — Ecology finalizes chemical action plan for lead.
2008 — Washington's Children's Safe Products Act sets a limit for lead in children's products.