There are many ways in which people are exposed to lead. It can be found in drinking water, contaminated soil, dust, and deteriorating paint. Before medical professionals knew how harmful lead could be, it was used in products like gasoline, water pipes, and paint. Old lead-based paint is the most significant source of dangerous lead exposure in the United States today.
If your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it contains lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning.
This hazardous paint could be on interior window frames, walls, and other surfaces, as well as on the outside of homes. Harmful exposures to lead can occur when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning.
High concentrations of airborne lead particles inside homes can also result from lead dust brought in from outdoor sources, including contaminated soil tracked inside the home.
What Is Lead?
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 dangerous health effects.
Lead can be found in the environment with much of the exposure coming from lead compounds used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes. Things like ceramics, plumbing materials, gasoline, batteries, and lead-based paints are common sources.
How Does Lead Paint Become a Hazard?
Lead paint that is present in homes today is usually located under layers of newer paint.
Both inside and outside the home deteriorated lead-paint mixes with household dust and soil and becomes tracked in. Airborne lead enters the body when an individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it has settled.
Occupants of a building that contains lead paint can contract lead poisoning by:
- Putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths
- Eating paint chips found in homes with peeling or flaking lead-based paint
- Playing in lead-contaminated soil
Deteriorating lead-based paint is a danger to families, especially younger children. If you see paint that is peeling, chipping, cracking, or damaged, then it needs immediate attention. It can be found on surfaces such as windowsills, doors and door frames, stairs, railings, and banisters. These are areas that children have ready access to.
What Are the Health Effects of Lead?
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body.
Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing Problems
For pregnant women, lead can pass from the mother to the fetus and can result in serious effects in development. Lead exposure can cause the baby to be born prematurely and smaller in size. It can harm the brain, kidneys, and nervous system. Pregnant women’s chances of miscarriage are increased when exposed to lead.
As levels of lead in the blood increase, adverse effects from lead may also increase. Most people who are exposed to lead have no immediate or obvious symptoms. The only way to tell if you’ve been exposed to lead is with a blood lead test.
If you think that you or your child has been exposed to lead paint or dust, contact your health care provider. They can help you decide whether a blood lead test is needed and can also recommend appropriate follow-up actions if you or your child has been exposed.
Lower Your Chances of Exposure to Lead
Lead in the original paint can leach into the non-lead-based paint so painting over lead-based paint with modern paint is not enough to completely eliminate the risk. Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future, by taking these steps:
1. Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible. Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs with either a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime. These practices are important, especially during remodeling work.
2. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition. Do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead. Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust.
3. Do not remove lead paint yourself. Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust. Consult your local or state health department for suggestions on which public agencies may be able to help test your home for lead in paint. Home test kits cannot detect small amounts of lead under some conditions. Hire a person with special training to remove lead-based paint.
4. Do not bring lead dust into the home. During remodeling, avoid tracking dust from the work area throughout the rest of the home. It is also important to avoid bringing lead dust in from other sources. If you work in construction, demolition, a radiator repair shop, or painting, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes.
You may also be tracking in lead from soil around your home. Soil very close to homes may be contaminated from lead paint on the outside of the building. Soil by roads and highways may be contaminated from years of exhaust fumes from cars and trucks that used leaded gas. Use doormats to wipe your feet before entering the home or tell your children to take off their shoes before entering the home.
5. Eat right. Individuals who get enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans. Dairy products are high in calcium. Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
6. Store food properly. . Do not store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. If you reuse old plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.
Does Your Home Have Lead-Based Paint?
You can request a lead paint inspection or a risk assessment from the EPA. A risk assessment tells you if there are any serious lead hazards, such as peeling paint and lead dust. It also informs you of what actions to take to address these hazards.
A lead paint inspection reveals the lead content of every painted structural part of your home including the doors, walls, and windows. However, a lead paint inspection does not tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
Selling a home with lead paint can present some challenges. If you are buying or selling a home where lead paint exists, it should be disclosed to potential buyers. It is the only federally mandated disclosure when selling a house.
If you have peeling or chipping lead-based paint, have it removed by qualified professionals. Get testing for lead hazards by a lead professional. You should have the soil tested too.
There are standards for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure the work is done safely, reliably, and effectively. The Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) of the EPA has changed how painting and other renovation contractors approach working on buildings built before 1978, as well as all schools, non-profit buildings, government buildings, and hospitals.
Even if your home was built before 1978, you may not be immediately at risk. Be sure that the paint on your walls is not deteriorating and is in good shape. Household dust can contain lead from the paint on the walls, but if you are diligent about dusting and vacuuming, it can minimize the effects.
Experienced and Certified Lead-Safe Painters
If your home was built after 1978, you will most likely be protected from the exposure of lead paint. However, if you live in an older home or building, it’s best to have certified paint contractors to paint your home. The Painting Pros is a Lead-Safe Certified Firm registered with the EPA. We take the necessary precautions to safely work with lead-based paint surfaces.
Our goal is to ensure your family’s safety and that all lead-based debris is removed and handled properly. We will check to see if the paint on your surfaces is deteriorating or in good shape. Our painting professionals are trained and experienced in not causing more dust to circulate in your home or business. We use only low VOC paints and recycle all eligible materials.