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  QUESTION: Preventative measures for lead exposure, 22 Dec 2005, Heilongjiang Province, People's Republic of China

I live in Harbin, China. How can I reduce my exposure to Lead and Mercury? Is there anything I can add to my water? Can I filter the water?

The exposure here is High I have no tests to prove it, but the coal burning is constant, year after year. What other chemicals will combine with lead and Mercury? can some compounds be worse or better on the body? I will give this info out to other people, including Chinese, that are concerned about contamination.


ANSWER: 28 Dec 2005

Hi Stephen,

As you have correctly noted, the primary treatment for lead poisoning is to stop the exposure. Removal of the source of lead is critical to reducing the lead levels. If you can't remove the source of lead from the environment, you may have alternatives to reduce the likelihood that lead will cause problems. For instance, sometimes it might be preferable to seal in, rather than remove, old lead paint. Your local health department can recommend resources to identify and reduce lead in your home or in your community.

  1. If you live in or near an area that contains lead, you can help reduce the risk of lead hazards by practicing the following suggestions:
  2. Wash your children's hands after they play outside, before eating and going to bed.
  3. Clean your floors with a wet mop and wipe furniture, windowsills and other dusty surfaces with a damp cloth.
  4. Don't let your children play near major roadways or bridges.
  5. Prepare meals that are high in iron and calcium. A nutritious diet helps prevent lead absorption in your children's bodies.
  6. Run cold water for at least a minute before using, especially if it hasn't been used for a while. Don't use hot tap water to make baby formula or for cooking.

If you're doing minor remodelling or touch-up work in an older house with lead-based paint, take some precautions. See: The Six Step Guide To Painting Your Home

  1. Wear protective equipment and clothing. Change your clothes, take a shower and wash your hair before leaving the job. Don't shake out work clothes or wash them with other clothes.
  2. Be careful where you eat. Don't eat or drink in an area where lead dust may be present.
  3. Don't attempt to remove the lead by sanding. Sanding is hazardous because it generates large amounts of small particles that wind up on the floor, where small children might encounter it. If you must sand, some types of sandpapers are designed to hold together when wet. Sanding with wet sandpaper helps reduce dust.
  4. Don't use an open-flame torch to remove paint. The flame produces lead particles small enough to inhale. Inhalation is an even more hazardous route of exposure than oral ingestion.
  5. Don't use the highest setting on a heat gun. People use heat to soften up paint to make it easier to remove. Some heat guns may get hot enough to make lead particles inhalable. If you're using a heat gun with settings on it, avoid the highest settings.
  6. Use caution in painting over old lead paint with new, lead-free enamel. Proper removal of intact lead paint may not be feasible. If the paint is on tight, without many chips, then it should stay that way and you can paint over it. You can also use panelling, drywall or encapsulation, which is similar to a very thick coat of paint. Large home renovation projects may require you to move out of your home until the project is complete and a professional can determine whether the lead no longer is a hazard.

I'm forwarding you an article to you that answers all your questions about the efficiency of removing lead and other elements in drinking water. The article is called "The efficiency of removal of lead and other elements from domestic drinking waters using a bench-top water filter system."

Shahilla Balachandran
Volunteer Information Officer

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Last Updated 28 December 2013
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