A Brief History of Lead Paint Poisoning

History of Lead Paint

Back in the days, when lead paints contained lead pigments, there were seldom chances of knowing the potential health risks that it can pose in younger children. The knowledge of these risks evolved over time & took almost a century to become evident. Cases of individuals developing learning disabilities started emerging and blood tests indicated high levels of lead exposure up to 40 to 80 micrograms per deciliter. It wreaked havoc in the field of medical science compelling scientific experts to take measures.

But how did it come to this? Here’s a brief history of lead paint poisoning.

A Brief History of Lead Paint Poisoning

Lead-based paint has a long history, dating back to Greek and Roman civilizations. It was widely used during the Renaissance era and in European guild halls. During the colonial period, lead-based paint was considered a luxury imported to the United States for luxury homes. Notable structures like the White House, the Capitol, and Mount Vernon were painted with this type of paint.

Skilled painters, starting as apprentices and progressing to become journeyman painters, would manually mix the white lead pigment with oil and adjust the proportions to meet the requirements of every construction project they could score on. It became quite the fad among the general population back in the 60s and 70s making it one of the widely accepted paints across the USA.

Before 1978, it was a well desired & legal product because of its durability and washability.

However, as time passed, cases emerged carving new pathways of lead poisoning taking place due to its ingestion. High level of toxicity was found in children’s blood levels which impacted their health.

Kids started showing learning disabilities & erratic behaviours due to such exposure.

As the knowledge base of such risks evolved, so did the actions required to take off the paint from the market. In fact, paint manufacturers showed cooperation with public health professionals stopping mass level productions of lead-based paint and acting responsibly at every turn.

The Evolving Knowledge on Lead Paint Hazards 

In the 70s, Jane Lin-Fu, a former public health official at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), took the stance as a leading expert on the health risks associated with lead exposure for children under six. As early as 1985, in a book chapter titled “Health Effects of Lead, an Evolving Concept,” Lin-Fu shared her insights, predicting any lead pigment trials that would take place in the future.

“It should be obvious that what constitutes the health effects of lead is an evolving concept that has changed dramatically since lead toxicity was first recognized in ancient times.”

“In the last 10 to 15 years [since 1970-1985], as scientific advances and modern technology have provided more sensitive measures of biochemical, psychological, and electro physiological changes associated with relatively low levels of lead exposure, the concept has undergone further scrutiny and changes that were fraught with controversies.”

In 1971, the enactment of the federal Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act prompted Dr. Julian Chisolm, a prominent researcher, and physician specializing in childhood lead poisoning in Baltimore, to provide an overview of the knowledge on lead poisoning in a scientific paper.

Dr. Chisolm’s paper highlighted the understanding of lead poisoning during that time, reflecting his contributions to the field from the mid-1950s through the end of the century. It questioned:

“Is it possible that a content of lead in the body that is insufficient to cause obvious symptoms can nevertheless give rise to slowly evolving and long-lasting adverse effects? The question is at present unanswered, but it is most pertinent.”

Dr. Chisolm further concluded & answered that childhood lead poisoning has a specific threshold, as he expressed in his writing.

“Mild symptoms may be found in the presence of values of between 60 and 80 micrograms of lead per 100 millilitres of blood. As the blood lead level rises above 80 micrograms, the risk of severe symptoms increases sharply.”

He also wrote in the same paper,

“Childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. is seen almost exclusively in children of preschool age who live in deteriorated housing built before 1940.”

This led to a further development in the 70s which initiated comprehensive epidemiological studies of children’s blood levels. It’s where modern science stepped in identifying the low asymptomatic blood lead levels and concerns were raised accordingly.

Preventive Measures 

The study first raised concerns in 70 about the blood lead levels of 25 micrograms or above highlighting it as a priority problem. By 1991, the blood lead level dropped to 10 micrograms or above. Not until 2003, the risk in children’s blood lead toxicity reduced to a number below 10 micrograms per deciliter.

As medical science progressed, the CDC established a different measuring of blood lead levels intended to mark the blood lead level below 5 micrograms per deciliter. Approximately, 97.5 percent of the U.S children came under this category which showed that there was a continual progression in reducing lead from the environment. By year 2015, the graph hit below 5 micrograms per deciliter.

chart on concentration of lead in the blood of children in the United States

As per the graph, it was found that almost 99 percent of the Americans living in the USA were lead poisoned, having an average blood lead level of 15 micrograms. At the time, lead was abundantly present in the air, soil, food, water and was exposed to the environment through other industrial means.

Today, the numbers have dramatically reversed making America a healthy living county.

Read More: Manhattan Lead – Understanding The Process & Benefits of Lead Inspection

Are You Concerned About Lead Poisoning? 

Even though steps have been taken to reduce lead poisoning from the environment, the federal government has taken strict steps and instigated policies to ensure every home in the United States is free from lead. Therefore, according to Local Law 1, they have made it mandatory for every household & commercial property to get their property inspected annually and ensure there aren’t any traces.

Manhattan Lead offers a complete lead inspection service using the latest XRF technology to identify lead paint hazards. Our team performs a thorough analysis & provide you with a complete report,

Need your property well tested for lead based paint? Dial (212) 226-1614 and get property inspection.

Scroll to Top