For centuries, lead was used in many products. The Greeks and Romans used lead in making pottery. Some historians have attributed the decline of the Roman Empire in part to lead poisoning. Lead was even used in medicines in early Greece and other ancient cultures. More recently, lead was used in old folk remedies such as "greta" and "azarcon," which was used to treat upset stomachs.
Lead use increased dramatically beginning with the industrial revolution. It has been used in the manufacture of common products such as paint, gasoline, batteries, solder in electrical conduits and potable water and sewer pipes, glass, crystal glassware and decanters, and painted toys and furniture.
By the late 20th Century, the presence of lead in the environment was so pervasive that humans in most regions of the world were exposed to lead every day. Since humans can take lead into their bodies by both breathing it and by ingesting it, most people are exposed daily to lead through the air we breathe and the food and water we consume. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), about 35% of surveyed homes (37.1 million) have lead-based paint. Of those 37.1 million homes, 93% were built before 1978 (2011 American Healthy Homes Survey). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are over half a million children under the age of 5 who have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams.
Lead is found in the dirt around houses, especially property near major roads due to lead particles from auto emissions drifting onto the property. The lead is then tracked into the house. Industrial and manufacturing facilities such as radiator repair shops, brass or bronze foundries, battery manufacturers, steel mills, and bridge construction areas are examples of environments with a high potential for lead exposure.
Because of the serious effects of lead on human health, all states have created tough lead laws based on federal legislation mandated by Congress. Lead in gasoline was banned in 1996 and from paint in 1978. The Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, Title X, which is also known as the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, has as its goal controlling the exposure to lead-based paints. Federal funds are available to assist the states in developing programs for testing and remediation. The Act represents the first time that the federal government has become involved with residential real estate transfers through its mandatory disclosure requirements.