Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why Washing Lead Won't Work

One of the middle-ground debate points in the discussion about removing contaminants from the home environment is to say they'll keep the contaminated products but be "extra careful" by cleaning frequently and washing hands after touching the items. This is a common response when parents receive education about lead sources in the home and balk at the idea of removing the sources quickly.

Around this time of the year, the most common situation is not wanting to remove contaminated artificial Christmas trees, wreaths, boughs, candles, string lights, and ornaments. These items are often viewed as expensive investments and also develop sentimental value over time, which makes parents reluctant to remove them or replace them with a cleaner alternative.

Once the parent is convinced that lead is indeed a pervasive, damaging toxin that harms every part of the child's development, the hard part is removal. This is when the half-isms crop up for this topic. Instead of removing the lead-contaminated item, they'll just keep the home extra clean!

Unfortunately, lead residue and lead dust is not fully removed by normal hand washing, natural washing machine detergents, vacuuming, and mopping. It actually requires specific chemicals to break down and remove from your environment. Although wiping and washing will remove some degree of lead, it will not remove all of it. In fact, using a household vacuum or washing things down with a rag or mop could actually spread the contamination. And when it comes to children, this is actually that big of an issue because any amount of lead causes damage to children, period. Here is just one of many, many studies on the topic that confirm even low levels of lead exposure can injure children for years down the road:

This is why I encourage parents to research things for themselves instead of stopping short by reading quick guidelines or ideas from social media stars. I sincerely believe as always that ALL people can be science-literate. Don't shy away from it and don't let any scripts shut you down. When you read articles saying it's fine to buy partially-leaded Christmas trees provided you wet mop, that's not the full story. When you read articles saying to be sure you wash your hands with soap and water after hanging leaded lights, that's not the full story. YOU can get the full story by taking a few minutes each day to pick out a substance, read the MSDS on it, read the CDC pages on it, read a textbook or online tutorial on it, read a few studies on it, etc. And within the week, you'll be connecting the dots and making healthier choices for your family. That's all it takes in any topic to be responsible for your family's wellbeing.

The NUMBER ONE WAY to "treat" toxic exposure is to ELIMINATE the exposure. Removing lead from your home and car will never be as easy and cheap as simply preventing lead from coming into your home in the first place. When you realize that lead requires special cleaning products and special cleaning methods, you'll realize that removing the lead source immediately is the most convenient option instead of trying to compromise with increased basic cleaning.

As the CDC points out:

"Use an effective lead removal product to clean your hands. Washing skin with standard soap and water is not enough to remove lead residues." (Click to read.)

For lead dust, you must also use a special HEPA vacuum cleaner with a closed system. If you use a regular vacuum cleaner, you risk spraying fine particulates of lead into your home, along with contaminating your vacuum cleaner. These special vacuums have to be rented from a health department/organisation or purchased.

For wiping and mopping hard surfaces, you must first spray down the entire surface with a detergent that will clean lead residue before wiping down the surfaces. Afterwards, you have to bag everything and dispose of it. Simply pulling out your steam mop with a reusable cloth wiper or using your swiffer mop is not enough to remove lead from your home and might even spread the contamination around from room to room.

When using your washing machine to clean linens, clothes, shoes, etc that might be lead contaminated, you cannot use natural detergents. They will not break down lead particles. You must use the right detergent, in the right amount, and also make sure you clean your washer and dryer after exposure.

Please remember to drop off your contaminated items at a hazmat recycling center. This might be a local hardware store with signage over a large bin. It can also be at your city's recycle center. Contact your local city hall if you're unsure of drop off areas where you live. Don't just place contaminated items into the regular trash!

If you're reading this and feel betrayed because you heard others saying it's safe to keep lead-contaminated items in your home as long as you clean, you're not alone. This myth is a common one on social media and sounds reasonable on the surface. Don't beat yourself up! Just start to identify lead sources and carefully bag them up while wearing nitrile gloves, then recycle them at a hazmat site. 

You can find companies that sell multiple products to effectively remove lead residue. I like the look of this one, as they have products you can put into your gear bag, actual soap dispensers for every day hand washing, wipes to quickly wash down surfaces, and larger spray bottles for general cleaning. Keeping their wipes on hand in the car or by the front door might even be a reasonable idea so you can periodically wipe down the floorboards and foyer where lead dust tracked in on shoes accumulates.

Visit their amazon store here. Please note that I do not make any money from amazon and do not receive any kickbacks, referrals, incentives, etc from anyone. I'm simply providing an example as a starting point for parents who are asking, "Now what?"

And please, now that you've learned about this pitfall, step in when you hear other parents or social media gurus promoting the idea that normal cleaning methods will eliminate lead exposure risks. Now you know, so pass it onto others. You don't have to share my blog; bookmark the CDC link. The way to combat myths and inaccurate science online is to speak up frequently. Here are a few generic statements I've heard:

"We have an artificial tree, but I keep the kids away from it." Still an exposure!
"We have a reusable tree, but I use a wet mop under it every night." Still an exposure!
"I let the kids hang the decorations, but I make sure they wash their hands really well afterwards." Still an exposure!
"My kids help hang the lights on the house. It's a tradition. I just make sure to wash their hands." Still an exposure!
"Double layer with nitrile gloves just to hang lights? Geez, ever heard of soap and water?" Still an exposure!
"I keep my husband's work clothes in a separate bin and wash them on their own." Still an exposure!
"I vacuum every night to collect any lead dust." Still an exposure!
"I squirt hand sanitizer onto their hands after playing at the park." Still an exposure! (Alcohol-based hand sanitizers will not remove lead residue, either!)
"I have the kids wipe off their shoes on the grass before coming inside." Still an exposure!
"I vacuum out the car weekly." Still an exposure!

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