Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Angela Petersen and her son, Justin, watch as Vanessa McMillan of the Salt Lake County Health Department checks Justin's toys for lead. The metal can be especially harmful to young children.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon kicked off a daylong free lead-testing event Thursday at the government center. Residents were invited to bring toys, furniture, jewelry, pottery or other items in to see if they contained unsafe lead levels.

The issue is of particular concern in households with children under 6, because those young brains and bodies are still developing and high lead levels can damage development and health. Lead is considered the most preventable environmental disease of young children, Corroon said. Every year, more than 1 million children nationwide suffer damage from elevated lead levels.

Adults can also suffer negative effects, but it takes much higher levels of lead exposure. There are some concerns about fertility and mood swings, says Amy Wendel, Salt Lake Valley Health Department surveillance specialist. Levels that are high enough can lead to death, said housing manager Randy Jepperson. "It is a poison."

Houses and apartments built before 1978, when lead was banned from use in paint, are of particular concern. People who are remodeling can expose old lead-based paint or stir up lead-laden dust that can be hazardous. And while old houses are probably the single largest source causing concern, there have also been recent lead-related recalls of children's imported toys that have parents worried.

A parent's guide issued by the Utah Department of Health says that lead poisoning is one of the most common preventable pediatric health problems in the United States.

Aside from the culprits of old paint and old plumbing, the health department cautions that lead can be carried into the home by working members of the family who are employed in industries that include construction, manufacturing of paint and plastic, and smelting and metal forgers.

Hobbies that may seem harmless enough — such as rebuilding old cars or refinishing furniture — can also pose risks.

Salt Lake County through its Lead Safe Housing Program offers free testing to eligible households and also has subsidies to help replace windows and repaint where lead contamination is a problem. To learn about the program, call 801-468-3169.

Other counties throughout the state also offer advice to residents on minimizing the exposure to lead.

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