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Lead

 

Snapshot:

Lead is a highly toxic metal commonly used in household products, such as paint, pipes, and solder, especially before the 1980s.  Since then, federal regulations have helped decrease or eliminate the amount of lead used in such products, making them safer for your family.  Despite this decrease in use, your home may still be at risk for high levels of lead.  Common sources of lead include lead-based paint, contaminated dust and soil, drinking water, old painted toys and furniture, ceramics, old batteries, cosmetics manufactured before 1980, gas, and substances associated with hobbies such as pottery, stained glass, and refinished furniture.   

 

Lead is such a dangerous chemical because of all of the negative health effects associated with its exposure.  Because children are constantly touching surfaces and then putting their hands in their mouths, lead is especially dangerous to them.  Children under the age of six are the most at risk because their bodies absorb more lead than adults, they are more likely to consume it due to chewing or sucking on hands, and their brains and nervous systems are more susceptible to the dangerous side effects of lead consumption.  If exposed to high levels of lead, children may suffer from behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures, damaged brain and nervous systems, slow growth, hearing problems, headaches, and other detrimental health effects. Similarly, lead can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure and hypertension, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain in adults.  For more information on how lead affects you health, visit the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' page on Lead and Your Health.

 

Homes built before 1978 are more likely to contain lead-based paint than more recent homes.  Homes built before 1940 have an 87% chance of containing dangerous amounts of lead (EPA).  If your home fits into these categories, it is important to have it tested for lead and take measures to eliminate the hazard.

 

Estimated Cost Savings:

Having your home tested for lead can cost anywhere from $10 to a few hundred.  Simple home test kits generally run between $10 and $100 depending on the quality of the kit.  Removal of lead-based paint and other hazards can be expensive, but will save you and your family from experiencing the detrimental health effects associated with lead. 

 

Some areas offer financial assistance for lead removal from homes in the forms of grants, tax credits, etc.  Check with your state to find out if there are and lead-removal programs in your area.

 

Issues:

Because of the dangers of lead, simply covering old paint with a newer coat of lead-free paint does not remove the lead. In some cases, this "encapsulation" with a surface coating may the the recommended method for reducing the hazard, but it is important to remember that the lead is still there. Contact an abatement contractor who is trained in permanent hazard elimination to eliminate the problem.

 

Installation (Getting It Done):

There are a variety of steps you can take to help reduce and eliminate lead in your home.  It is important to have your home and family tested for lead.  Simple blood tests will reveal high levels of lead in the body and are especially important in children ages 1-2.  Consult your doctor to find out how to get your family tested for lead and what to do to combat the problem. 

 

There are two main forms of home tests: paint inspections and risk assessments.  Paint inspections identify the levels of lead in various areas in the home including doors, walls, windows, and other painted surfaces. These tests will only identify how much lead is in your home, not give you ways to combat it.  Risk assessments will identify the areas of your home where there is serious lead exposure with high levels of risk.  These tests will also help provide combative actions to help eliminate the problem.   It is important to hire a certified professional to conduct these tests as the results are incredibly important to your family's health.  Contact the National Lead Information Center to find companies in your area that provide lead testing.   For more information, visit the EPA's page on Testing Your Home for Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil.

 

When renovating, repairing, or repainting a home, school, or child care facility that was built before 1978, it is important to work with professional abatement contractors who have training working with lead in homes.  Click here to find an EPA Certified Firm in your area. To find more guidelines for renovating buildings with high levels of lead, check out the EPA's brochure on Renovating Right.

 

There are some ways to help minimize the risk of lead in your home without or before consulting a professional. 

  • Clean up paint chips off the walls, floors, and all other surfaces in your home.

  • Clean surfaces weekly using safe cleaners.

  • Thoroughly rinse cleaning equipment after dusting or cleaning.

  • Wash children's hands often to keep lead dust, dirt, and paint from getting in their mouths.

  • Keep your kid's areas clean.  This includes bedrooms, bathrooms, play areas, and any other rooms where your kids are constantly in contact with toys, furniture, walls, doors, or windows. 

  • Watch your children and keep them from chewing on window sills, old toys, or other sources of lead.

  • Remove your shoes before entering the house to avoid tracking in lead-contaminated soil. Make sure your kids eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.  Healthier diets help reduce the amount of lead absorbed by children's systems.  Click here for more information.

  • Put dirt over contaminated soil and repair damaged soil for temporary fixes in areas that test positive for high levels of lead.  These fixes will not eliminate the problem, however, so it is important to contact a professional as soon as possible after lead is identified in your home.

Visit the EPA's Ten Tips to Protect Children from Pesticide and Lead Poisoning Around the Home for more tips on reducing the negative effects of lead in your home.

 

Videos on This Topic:

 

Is It Safe? (15:54) - Toxicology Education Foundation - In this video from the Toxicology Education Foundation, find out why lead paint is so dangerous to kids, where lead is found, and how to minimize exposure, especially to your children.

 

Testing for Lead Paint in Your Home (1:09) - Danny Lipford - Find out where lead is a hazard in your home and see an example of a home lead testing kit. 

 

Testing for Lead in Your Drinking Water (1:11) - Lead can easily get into drinking water because many older pipes and solder contained high levels of lead. Find out how to test for lead in your drinking water in this short video.

 

More Information on This Topic:

 

EPA - Lead

 

National Safety Council - Lead Poisoning

 

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - Toxicology Profile for Lead

 

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Lead and Your Health

 

EPA - Lead in Your Home: A Parent's Reference Guide

 

EPA - Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home

 

EPA - Resources on Lead

 


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