Skip to main content

Beacon Senior News

How toxic is lead to older adults?

Jan 24, 2022 02:40PM ● By Fred Cicetti

It’s true that children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults because lead is more easily absorbed by growing bodies. However, adults can also suffer from lead poisoning, and exposure to high lead levels can be fatal.

Sources of lead poisoning

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust. It’s been spread throughout the environment by burning fossil fuels, mining and manufacturing. Although consumer use of many items, such as lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, and lead-soldered canned foods, have been banned in the U.S., humans can still be exposed to lead in their water, soil and household items. 

Homes built before 1978 may have lead-based paint inside and outside. This kind of paint can also be found on old toys and furniture, which pose a danger to children who may accidentally ingest paint chips or chew on objects painted with lead-based paint.

Similarly, if you live in an older house, your plumbing may contain lead, which is impossible to see, smell or taste. You can test your tap water with a home test kit, which is sold at most hardware stores. You can also call a water filtration company or your local water supplier to come to your house and test it for you. 

Lead from exterior paint, old leaded gas, household dust, or other sources can be absorbed by soil that is tracked inside your home. 

Next time you buy eye makeup, check the ingredients for kohl, which frequently has high levels of lead.

Symptoms & Prevention

Lead exposure can affect many parts of the body, especially the nervous system. It can cause anemia, make you irritable, and affect your memory and concentration. It can also lead to digestive problems and cataracts, and can increase blood pressure, particularly in older adults. 

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults may include: weak muscles, numbness in extremities, headaches, abdominal pain, loss of memory, mood disorders and abnormal sperm.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent your exposure to lead:

• Clean up paint chips immediately

• Clean floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces weekly 

• Wash hands often

• Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil

• Repair damaged painted surfaces

• Plant grass to cover soil with high lead levels 

To remove lead hazards permanently, you must hire a certified lead-abatement contractor. To locate certified contractors in Colorado, call the regional office for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at 303-312-6312, or visit