Dear Dr. Blonz: Six months ago, I moved into a wonderful apartment that included some furnishings. The kitchen table appears to be constructed from an old painted door. It is beautiful and solid, but what concerns me is that I noticed a powder on the surface when I moved in. I keep the table clean and have always used a tablecloth, but one of my friends told me that there could be lead in the old paint and that this could be dangerous — pointing out that the tablecloth and my cleaning would not provide any real protection.
I need more information about this risk and about how best to determine whether there is any lead on this door.
There are no children in the apartment, but I do have a dog and want to be certain that neither the dog nor I am in danger. — J.S. Anderson, South Carolina
Dear J.S.: You are right to be concerned about lead. This potentially toxic substance 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.
Lead poisoning in children, for example, is often related to the consumption of leaded paint chips that peel off walls and other surfaces or by putting toys that contain lead dust in their mouths. (This could also be an issue with dog toys, in your case.)
For adults, leaded water pipes are a common source of lead poisoning. Others include cooking in, or eating on, pottery that is rich in lead; consuming food or liquids that have been stored in leaded containers; and working in industries that use lead compounds.
For you, a prudent first step is to determine whether there is any lead on the door or elsewhere in the apartment. There are products to help with this, many available at your local hardware store or online. I have used the LeadCheck swabs made by 3M, but there are other brands, and any can provide the information you need. Most involve a color indicator that reacts to the presence of lead, changing to a specific color if lead ions are present. The tests are simple and straightforward and will let you know instantly if your painted table — or any surface or object — presents a risk.
There are blood tests to determine if the body has been exposed to excessive lead. Speak with a physician for a precise evaluation. The body can rid itself of lead, albeit slowly. The first step is to identify and stop the exposure.
The symptoms of lead poisoning in adults can include anemia, fatigue, depression, 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 information on a variety of issues relating to lead: epa.gov/lead.
(Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of the digital book “The Wellness Supermarket Buying Guide” (2012), which is also available as a free digital resource at blonz.com/guide.)