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Lead is a metal mined from the earth. Historically, lead has been used as an ingredient in a wide variety of products, including ceramic ware, glazes and finishes, glassware, cosmetics, wine, plastics, paint, and gasoline. Lead has been known to be poisonous since the time of ancient Greece. Routes of lead poisoning and its effects, however, are still being discovered.
Lead was added to paint to increase its flexibility and to reduce cracking and flaking. Lead also blocked mold and helped create brighter colors.
Lead-based paint, like all paint, deteriorates over time. Deterioration creates dust and chips that can poison humans if inhaled, eaten, or absorbed.
In 1950 paint makers were forced to reduce the amount of lead they used in paint. In 1978 lead was banned completely from use in household paints.
Lead was used in gasoline until 1984. Before that, automobiles produced leaded emissions that broadcast lead particles onto roadsides and yards. These emissions, combined with chipping lead-based paint on home exteriors, contaminate the soil surrounding houses, garages, and other structures.
Lead was used as plumbing solder for pipes in structures built before 1978. Water that sits in these pipes may absorb lead. Hot water is more likely to do this than cold water.