Text Size   - | +

Lead Hazards 101

cracking lead based paint

  About Lead Poisoning

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals causing of health effects.

Lead electrolytic and 1cm3 cube lead in raw form

Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead paint.

lead infographic Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health. Damage to the brain and nervous system. Slowed growth and development. Learning and behavior problems. Hearing and speech problems. This can cause: lower IQ, Decreased ability to pay attention, underperformance at school

Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breath lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

Infocgraphic of how lead can affect adults. Brain: Memory loss, lack of concentration, headaches, irritability, depressions. Digestive system: Constipation, nausea and poor appetite. Nervous system: Damage including numbness and pain in the extremities. Body: Fatigue, joint and muscle pain. Cardiovascular: High blood pressure. Kidneys: Abnormal function and damage. Reproductive: Men, Decreased sex drive and sperm count, and sperm abnormalities. Women, Spontaneous miscarriage.

Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including the use of fossil fuels including past use of leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in homes. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.

Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses. Lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.

When lead is released to the air from industrial sources or vehicles, it may travel long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may move from soil into ground water depending on the type of lead compound and the characteristics of the soil.

Lead History in Omaha

Old black and white photo of the Omaha Smelting Works buildings

The Omaha Lead Site (OLS or Site [CERCLIS ID # NESFN0703481]) covers over 9,000 acres and makes up most of the eastern portion of metropolitan Omaha, Nebraska and centers on the former location of the American Smelting and Refining Company, Inc., (ASARCO) lead smelter and refinery. EPA became involved with the site in the 1990s when it was learned that up to 40% of the children in some areas of eastern Omaha were reported to have elevated blood lead levels. EPA embarked on one of the largest residential yard response actions in the nation in the area surrounding the Omaha Lead Site.

The Site includes surface soils present at residential properties, child-care centers, and other residential-type properties in the city of Omaha, Nebraska, that have been contaminated as a result of deposition of air emissions from historic lead smelting and refining operations. The Site is centered around downtown Omaha, Nebraska, where two former lead-processing facilities operated. ASARCO operated a lead refinery at 500 Douglas Street in Omaha, Nebraska, for over 125 years. Aaron Ferer & Sons Company (Aaron Ferer), and later the Gould Electronics, Inc., (Gould) lead battery recycling plant were located at 555 Farnam Street. Both the ASARCO and Aaron Ferer/Gould facilities released lead-containing particulates to the atmosphere from their smokestacks which were deposited on surrounding residential properties.

The ASARCO facility conducted lead smelting and refining operations at the 500 Douglas Street facility from the early 1870s until 1997. The ASARCO facility was located on approximately 23 acres on the west bank of the Missouri River in downtown Omaha. Aaron Ferer constructed and operated a secondary lead smelter and lead battery recycling plant from the early 1950s until 1963. In 1963, the facility was purchased by Gould, who operated until it closed in 1982. During the operational period of these facilities, lead-contaminated particulates were emitted into the atmosphere through smokestacks and other processes. The pollutants were transported downwind in various directions and deposited on the ground surface.

The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) performed monitoring of the ambient air quality around the ASARCO facility beginning in 1984. This air monitoring routinely measured ambient lead concentrations exceeding the ambient standard for lead at that time of 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (g/m3 ). The highest recorded quarterly average measured in air was 6.57 g/m3 . The DCHD has compiled statistics on the results of blood lead screening of children less than seven years of age for more than 25 years. Blood lead screening of children living in zip codes located east of 45th Street nearest to the former lead-processing facilities have consistently exceeded the 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dl) health-based threshold more frequently than children living elsewhere in the county.

In 1998, the Omaha City Council requested assistance from the EPA to address the high frequency of children found with elevated blood lead levels by the DCHD. At that time, the EPA began investigating the lead contamination in the Omaha area under the authority of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA).

Development of the Omaha Lead Registry began in 2008. It was originally titled Omaha Lead Database and listed Lead Hazard Control Program sites and provided risk assessment, work plan, and clearance test information. Later, the database included risk assessments and clearance tests submitted by the public. The website name was changed to the Omaha Lead Registry in 2013. The EPA began supporting development of the Registry in 2012 and included Omaha Lead Superfund Site data, soil testing and clean up, exterior paint testing and stabilization, and dust response.

For more information about the Omaha Lead Superfund Site please click here.

And here for the EPA Omaha Lead Record of Decision and Final Record of Decision

  Frequently Asked Questions

How do I obtain a copy of a lead Risk Assessment?

Locate the property you are interested on the map, and click on the property.  On the map, you will see one or more red and white icons appear on the property.  The number of icons tells you how many types of data are available for the property.  You can also see the data available on the left side panel of the window.

Click on one of the red and white icons to open a pop-up within the map.  If a report is available for that data you will see "Run a Report" in the lower right of the pop-up.  Click on 'Run a Report". The report will appear as a link in the left side panel of the window.  Click on the link to download the report.

Who should I contact to have my property tested?

Call the City of Omaha Lead Information Office at (402) 731-3045 for information about testing soil and paint.  All testing and clean-up actions are at no cost to property owners.

What are "Owner Activities"?

Owner Activities, also known as "Owner-Initiated Activities," refer to lead hazard related responses to a residential property that were impelled by the property owner. For example, if a homeowner suspected lead hazards in his/her home, he/she may have requested a risk assessment from the City of Omaha. Even if the City executed the risk assessment, action was still initiated by the owner.

What does "Paint Stabilization" mean?

Paint stabilization is the process by which deteriorating lead paint is repaired, then coated, to prevent further exposure to lead particles.

Where can I find information about lead poisoning prevention?

For information about lead poisoning prevention, please see the EPA Guidelines for protecting your family from lead exposure.  The Douglas County Health Department and Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance have additional information about lead hazard prevention, offer blood lead testing for children under 7 years, and additional resources and services for Omaha and Douglas County residents.

Where can I find information about lead safe gardening?

For information about lead safe gardening practices please read the EPA fact sheet on growing gardens in urban soils, and visit the Soil Science Society of America for additional information.

What does the EPA do?

In 1999 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began conducting soil testing and clean up in eastern Omaha. Since 2015 EPA and the City of Omaha began transitioning the lead clean-up activities. The City is now supervising and overseeing the soil sampling and soil clean-up of contaminated yards. For more information about the EPA's involvement, please visit the EPA's Omaha Lead Superfund site. Also, please read the EPA Record of Decision and Final Record of Decision concerning Omaha lead activity.