THE DANGERS OF LEAD PAINT
Many houses built before 1978 have paint that contains lead
(called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust
can pose serious health hazards, if not taken care of properly.
In 1996 federal law requires that individuals receive certain
information before renting, buying, or renovating pre-1978
housing. Sellers have to disclose known information on lead-based
paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts will
include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building.
Buyers will have up yo 10 days to check for lead hazards.
Renovators will have to give you the information in this article
before starting work.
LEAD GETS IN THE BODY IN MANY WAYS
One out of every eleven children in the United
States has dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstream.
Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels
of lead. People can get lead in their body if they: put their
hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths,
eat paint chips or soil that contain lead, or breathe in lead
dust (especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces).
Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because
children's growing bodies absorb more lead and their brains
and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects
of lead. If not detected early, children with high levels
of lead in their bodies can suffer from: damage to the brain
and nervous system, behavior and learning problems (such as
hyperactivity), slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.
Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties
during pregnancy and other reproductive problems (in both
men and women). Other effects are high blood pressure, digestive
problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems,
and muscle and joint pain. Lead can affect the body in many
CHECKING YOUR FAMILY FOR LEAD
Get your children tested if you think your home
has high levels of lead. A simple blood test can detect lead
levels. Blood tests are important for children who are 6 months
to 1 year old (6 months if you live in an older home that
might have lead in the paint) and family members you think
might have high levels of lead. If your child is older than
1 year, talk to your doctor about whether your child needs
testing. Your doctor or health center can do the blood tests.
They are inexpensive and sometimes free. Your doctor will
explain what the test results mean. Treatment can range from
changes in your diet to medication or a hospital stay.
WHERE LEAD-BASED PAINT IS FOUND
In general, the older your home, the more likely
it has lead-based paint. Many homes built before 1978 have
lead based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned lead-based
paint from housing. Leas can be found in single family homes
and apartments, inside and outside the house, in soil around
a home. (Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint, or other
sources such as past use of leaded gas in cars.)
Lead is most likely to be a hazard in paint chips, which you
can see, and lead dust, which you canŐt always see. Lead-based
paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard. Peeling,
chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard
and needs immediate attention. Lead-based paint may also be
a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or
that gets a lot of wear and tear, These areas include: windows
and window sills, doors and door frames, stairs, railings
and banisters, and porches and fences.
Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry
sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump
or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and
objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can reenter the
air when people vacuum, sweep, or walk through it. Lead in
soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil or when
people bring soil into the house on their shoes.
CHECKING YOUR HOME FOR LEAD HAZARDS
Just knowing a home has lead-based paint may not tell you
if there is a hazard. You can get your home checked for lead
hazards in two ways, or both:
- a paint inspection tells you the lead content of every
painted surface in your home
- a risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of
serious lead exposure (such as peeling paint and lead dust).
It also tells you what actions to take to address these
Have qualified professionals do the work. Trained
professionals use a range of methods when checking your home,
including visual inspection of paint condition and location,
lab tests of paint samples, surface dust tests, and a portable
x-ray fluorescence machine. Home test kits for lead are available,
but should not be the only method used before doing renovations
or to assure safety.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
If you suspect that your house has lead hazard,
you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family's
risk. Clean up paint chips immediately. Clean floors, window
frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop
or sponge with warm water and a general purpose cleaner or
a cleaner made specifically for lead. Thoroughly rinse sponges
and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas. Wash children's
hands often, especially before they eat and before nap time
and bed time. Keep children from chewing window sills and
other painted surfaces. Clean or remove shoes before entering
your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil. Make sure children
eat nutritious, low fat meals high in iron and calcium, such
as spinach and low-fat dairy product. Children with good diets
absorb less lead.
Removing lead improperly can increase the hazard to your family
by spreading even more lead dust around the house. Always
use a professional who is trained to remove lead hazards safely.
In addition to day to day cleaning and good nutrition you
can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions like
repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover
soil with high lead levels. These actions (called "interim
controls") are not permanent solutions and will not eliminate
all risks of exposure. To permanently remove lead hazards,
you must hire a lead "abatement" contractor. Abatement
(or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing,
sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.
Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough.
Always hire a person with special training for correcting
lead problems, someone who knows how to do this work safely
and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. If possible,
hire a certified leads abatement contractor. Certified contractors
will employ qualified workers and follow safety rules set
by the state or the federal government.
REMODELING A HOME WITH LEAD-BASED PAINT
If not conducted properly, certain types of renovations can
release lead from paint and dust into the air. Take precautions
before you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb painted
surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls).
- Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
- Do not use a dry scraper, belt sander, propane torch,
or heat gun to remove lead-based paint. These actions create
large amounts of lead dust and fumes. Lead dust can remain
in your home long after the work is done.
- Temporarily move your family (especially children and
pregnant women) out of your house until the work is done
and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your
family, at least completely seal off the work area.
If you have already completed renovations
or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or
dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps
OTHER SOURCES OF LEAD
While paint, dust, and soil are the most common lead hazards,
other lead sources also exist.
- Drinking water. Your home might have plumbing with lead
or lead solder. Call your water supplier about testing your
water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling
your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing
might have lead in it, then use only cold water for drinking
and cooking. Also run water for 15 to 30 seconds before
drinking it especially if you have not used your water for
a few hours.
- On the Job. If you work with lead, you could bring it
home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes
before coming home. Launder your clothes separately from
the rest of your familyŐs.
- Miscellaneous Sources. Old painted toys and furniture.
- Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed
pottery or porcelain.
- Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into
- Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained
glass, or refinishing furniture.
- Folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta"
and "azarcon" used to treat an upset stomach.
This article was provided by the Consumer Product Safety
Commission. For more information on lead hazards call the
National Lead Information Center at 1-800-LEAD-FYI