DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am concerned about lead poisoning. What is the best way to check for lead in paint? Our vacation rental is in a dated cottage and there is a powdery deposit on the walls. The rental agency doesn't know the answer. Our dog is with us, and we are also concerned about him. I need to find out more about what goes wrong with lead and how to find out discreetly whether there is a problem. -- S.R., San Diego
DEAR S.R.: The most immediate step is to find out whether there is lead on the walls. There are a number of lead-check products, some of which will probably be available at a local hardware store. I have used LeadCheck swabs (leadcheck.com) by 3M, but there are a number of products that can provide the information you need. They all involve a liquid swab with an indicator substance that turns a certain color when lead ions are present. It is a simple, straightforward test that can be used on any surface, and one that will let you know instantly -- and discreetly -- whether the powdery deposit on the walls in your rental represents a risk. These swabs can also be used to test for lead in any other items, such as chew toys used by the dog.
You are right to be concerned. Lead can enter the body in a number of ways, the most common being the consumption of substances containing lead, or the inhalation of lead in dust. If the walls have leaded paint, powder from the paint can drop to the floor; every time the floor is swept, the lead can become airborne, presenting an increased risk of inhalation. Lead poisoning in children, for example, is often related to the consumption of leaded paint chips that peel off the walls, or by putting hands or toys with lead dust on them in their mouths. In adults, common sources are leaded water pipes, leaded pottery used for cooking or eating, leaded food-storage containers, or working in industries where lead-containing compounds are used.
Aside from testing kits for the suspect items, there is a blood test that can determine if excessive lead has entered the body. A physician can provide a more precise evaluation. The good news is that the body is able to rid itself of lead; the bad news is that it does so slowly. The issue is that if you are in a lead-contaminated environment, the lead comes in faster than the body can eliminate it. That means the essential first step is to stop the exposure.
The symptoms of lead poisoning in adults are varied, including anemia, fatigue, depression, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, abdominal pain, gout, kidney failure, wrist or foot weakness or reproductive problems. In children, lead poisoning symptoms include anemia, fatigue, decreased appetite, digestive problems, sleeplessness, learning problems and lowered I.Q. The Environmental Protection Agency has an excellent "Learn about Lead" page at tinyurl.com/ohsk2z5.
In dogs, the symptoms of lead poisoning include distinct changes in their nervous and digestive systems, including seizures, uneven gait, colic and vomiting. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions. You can find more about lead poisoning in dogs at tinyurl.com/nl3qed6 and tinyurl.com/32r4uj.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.