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What is Lead?
Lead is a natural metal element found in the air, soil, and water that can be toxic to humans. When combined with other metals, it can produce alloys. Lead and lead alloys are often used to make batteries, ammunition, and other metal products. Lead can be found in paint, water pumped through lead pipes, ceramics and clay pots, makeup, jewelry, caulking, artificial turf, fishing equipment, and toys.
In the case of the National Guard, lead dust has been found in maintenance facilities, firing ranges (both indoor and outdoor), and readiness centers.
How Am I Exposed to Lead?
There are two ways that lead typically enters your body:
- Lead fumes or dust are in the air you breathe and travel into your lungs. The lead is then absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Lead is either in the food you eat or on your hands. It then is transferred to your mouth or face while eating, smoking, or applying cosmetics.
How Do I Protect Myself and My Family From Lead Exposure?
Here are three simple actions that can help prevent exposure:
- Wash your hands. Do this after handling weapons and ammunition, working on vehicles and aircrafts, or moving items from storage. You should also wash them before eating, smoking, or applying cosmetics to minimize the chances of ingesting lead.
- Change your clothes. Do this before going home after a day at the firing range or working on vehicles to ensure you don’t transport lead home to your family.
- Work with your Safety NCO/Officer. This ensures your job tasks have been reviewed for possible hazards and any necessary controls are in place such as ventilation, following steps in a standard operating procedure, or wearing the proper personal protective equipment.
What Are the Risks and Symptoms of Lead Exposure?
Children from before birth to age 6 are especially sensitive to lead because their brains and nervous systems are growing rapidly. The following are risks and symptoms of lead exposure to be aware of:
At “elevated blood lead levels,” which are levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (mg/dl), lead can start to have an effect on small children. If not detected early, these levels can reduce IQ and cause learning and behavioral problems. This has been seen in studies involving large groups of children, but doesn’t mean that every child will have a problem.
Adults and older children are much less sensitive to lead, and not as likely to swallow it accidently. Pregnant and nursing women have to be careful about exposing themselves to lead because it can be passed on to an unborn or nursing child.
People with high levels of lead in their bodies can have symptoms such as colic, nausea, headaches, irritability, loss of concentration, and constipation. Long-term exposure to high lead levels can cause nerve disorders, fertility and pregnancy problems, and kidney damage.
What is the Guard Doing to Minimize Exposure to Lead?
While many agencies in the National Guard are working to reduce lead dust throughout Guard facilities, you also can play a very important role.
Larger projects like the renovation of former indoor firing ranges in readiness centers are being handled through construction contracts at your Joint Forces Headquarters.
However, smaller efforts are all that is needed in almost every other case where lead dust has been identified. You can perform simple housekeeping in accordance with the guidance from your state’s Safety and Occupational Health Office to help reduce lead dust levels in your Guard facilities. This usually involves cleaning surfaces with a HEPA vacuum and wet mop.
Where Should I Go for More Information?
Use your chain of command to contact your state’s Army National Guard Occupational Health Office. You can also learn more about lead and how you can protect yourself through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Check out our infographic to learn facts about lead exposure and how you can prevent it.
Remember, Ask the Experts does not replace professional medical care or guidance.