Any Exposure is Bad Exposure: A Comparison on Lead Safety & COVID-19 Safety Practices

As we learn more about the Coronavirus and how to limit exposure, proper health and safety precautions are on everyone’s minds. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending we wash our hands for 20 seconds, avoid touching our faces, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces like countertops or doorknobs.

You may know that these are important measures to take to mitigate risk of catching the virus, or spreading it to other more vulnerable people but what you may not know is how closely COVID-19 safety procedures relate to lead-safe practices. During this time of being conscious of health and well being, it is useful to know what you’re protecting yourself from by practicing caution.

Lead has been an issue in Western PA since the 1970s when the US began to recognize the severity of complications that come with lead exposure. Some complications from lead exposure include increased lead levels in the blood which can decrease cognitive functions, increase in ADHD, and increase antisocial behaviors in children. High levels of lead can cause seizures, coma, severe brain and kidney damage, and even death. Because most issues relate directly to cognitive ability, developing children and pregnant women are deemed as the most vulnerable groups making lead-safe practices that much more important. 

Since the 70s, the federal government passed multiple regulations on the use of lead in gasoline as well as banning lead-containing paint. Though these regulations have resulted in significant drops in elevated lead levels in the blood, traces of lead exist still in our infrastructure, especially in homes built before the 1970s. The journey of a lead particle begins once a lead-contaminated building that has been unsafely demolished, releases particles into the air in forms of dust. Once that dust settles, the lead particles are then incorporated into the neighboring soil system. However, the journey does not stop there, the lead from the soil, or surrounding air, can be tracked through your house from boots, clothing, and contact with surfaces causing immediate danger to children and other vulnerable groups. 

Allegheny county is riddled with vacant land, many that have emerged from demolitions in communities. If those demolished buildings contained lead, the present vacant land that is now home to a playground or a parking lot, is likely to be contaminated. Because lead particles cannot be easily detected without analysis equipment, it is that much more important to practice safety when you think you have been exposed. Listed below are precautions you can take when exposed to lead.

  • Wash hands after being outside. To help reduce hand-to-mouth transfer of contaminated dust or soil, wash your children’s hands after outdoor play
  • Clean dusty surfaces. Clean your floors with a wet mop and wipe furniture, windowsills and other dusty surfaces with a damp cloth.
  • Remove shoes before entering the house. This will help keep lead-based soil outside.
  • Cover bare soil with mulch. Provide children with assets that don’t have direct contact with bare soil.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Regular meals and good nutrition might help lower lead absorption. Children especially need enough calcium, vitamin C and iron in their diets to help keep lead from being absorbed.
  • Keep your home well-maintained. If your home has lead-based paint, check regularly for peeling paint and fix problems promptly. Try not to sand, which generates dust particles that contain lead


As shown above, many of these lead-safe precautions closely mimic actions to take when exposed to the Coronavirus. By following these procedures, you are not only limiting exposure to cold & flu viruses but harmful lead particles as well. There are still precautions that we as citizens can take to mitigate the risk that comes with lead as well as COVID-19, because any exposure to lead is bad exposure.

  • Soil testing = Testing for COVID

  • Avoid lead contaminated soil = physical distancing

  • Keep clear of children and pregnant women when exposed to lead = Avoid visiting your elderly relatives and neighbors

3 thoughts on “Any Exposure is Bad Exposure: A Comparison on Lead Safety & COVID-19 Safety Practices

  1. The pandemic ruined many plans. One of them is lead removal. Lead damages many organs, and the damage to the developing brain can be lifelong. But still, there are some changes in this regard – a new law has been passed for builders and repairman in New York, the EPA requires the RRP Lead Renovator Initial Course is mandatory and must be passed by the end of the year. It contains a hands-on training component, therefore the majority of the class may be done online (6 Hours) but participants will still be required to attend a small portion to participate in the hands-on activities (2 Hours)

  2. Wow, it was really informative when you talked about how lead exposure can lead to kidney damage. How long does it take for lead exposure take to harm you? It seems like you would want to avoid any kind of lead exposure.

    1. You’re absolutely right Henry: avoiding any kind of lead exposure is the best way to prevent ill effects of its presence in our environment. In order for lead exposure to harm you, there are several factors at play: the intensity of your exposure (a small amount of lead-dust on your leafy greens is much less dangerous than working in an ammunition factory), the method of exposure (eating lead contaminated candies is more hazardous than touching brushing lead contaminated paint with your elbow), and the duration of exposure (drinking one glass of lead contaminated water is less dangerous than drinking an equally contaminated glass of water every day for 50 years). Depending on these and many more factors (such as age), lead exposure could manifest as physical/neurological symptoms relatively quickly after exposure (within months), or take several years or decades to become apparent.

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