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This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a time dedicated to lead-based poisoning prevention and treatment. Lead is a naturally occurring element that has beneficial uses, but it has proven to be toxic to humans and animals.

Once a popular building material due to its malleability and abundance in various regions of the world, lead usage has been heavily regulated in construction after being determined highly poisonous, even fatal, when ingested by both children and adults. It can negatively affect the cardiovascular, excretory and immune systems, but it most notably damages the nervous system, causing weakness in extremities as well as blood and brain disorders.

Remnants of the element can be found in soil, dust, drinking water and painted products because of its abundance in construction before 1978, mostly in plumbing and paint materials. Therefore, it is important to know what kind of paint and pipes have been used in or around your home.

The government has taken measures to prohibit the concentrated use in building materials, but constant exposure to small amounts can add up and cause health complications in the long term. The Environmental Protection Agency has enacted the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule to protect homeowners, preschools and child care facilities, and lead regulations span across several laws involving air, water and other environmental elements.

It is important to have your home and small children screened for lead exposure. Children younger than 6 years old are the most at risk to the negative health effects of lead due to their undeveloped organ systems. Many states offer free lead-level blood tests and information on lead-level testing in the home. More information about lead poisoning prevention and testing can be found by visiting the CDC or the EPA.