Lead Poisoning and Children - The Risks in Your Old House
Editor's Note: For information on reducing toxins and other hazards in your home, visit The Old House Web Home Hazards Series
Understanding Home Lead Risks During National Poison Prevention Week
During National Poison Prevention Week (March 14-20, 2010), we encourage families who live in an old home to take some basic steps to reduce possible lead exposure to adults and children. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 24% of surveyed homes built between 1960 and 1977 had lead paints present. These numbers increased significantly - to 86% for surveyed homes built before 1940.
Until the 1940s and 1950s, lead paint was commonly used in home construction, toys, and furniture. During that time, lead based house paints were prized for their performance in heavily trafficked areas such as kitchens, baths, windows and doors. As a result of deterioration, regular use and dust-creating friction, lead can often be found not only in paint chips, but also in household dust, soil, or even tap water. Whether your child is crawling on the floor, touching window sills or doors, or even playing with dirt in the yard, she could be coming in contact with lead particles.
Parents should take basic steps to prevent lead poisoning in children, since lead can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavior and learning problems, and slowed growth in children. Adults are also subject to reproductive problems, hypertension, nerve disorders, and memory and concentration problems.
New Regulations Help Prevent Home Lead Exposure
The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 was passed into law requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the EPA to disclose any knowledge it has on the danger of lead paint in properties on the market.
Home sellers are required under the law to give buyers a 10-day period to conduct paint inspections or tests before completing a sale. If you are sampling for lead, start with kitchens, baths, doors and windows. You may also want to include samples from pipes, tap water, and the soil around the base of the house. Tests are relatively inexpensive.
In 2008 Congress passed additional laws that require contractors to take further precautions to protect kids from lead exposure when reconstructing or renovating homes, schools, and other structures where children live, study, and play. The law goes into effect on April 2010 and will impact maintenance professionals and paid contractors.
DIY Home Projects and Lead Exposure
If you're planning to work on any residence built prior to 1978, here are some steps to take to protect yourself and your children from lead exposure:
- Avoid stripping or repainting when children are present.
- Strip paint with a heat-based stripper, do not sand as this can create toxic dust, which can be inhaled or can contaminate soil.
- Remove any dislodged paint chips or dust from scraping or from changes to walls with a wet rag or sponge rather than a vacuum cleaner.
- Open the tops of any window frames where you're working or cleaning to allow good ventilation. If there is dust, wear a painter's respirator.
- Clean all window wells and sills with dishwasher detergent twice a week in any home where lead paint has been applied during previous decades.
Getting Additional Help with Lead Paint
The National Lead Information Center (NLIC) works in coordination with HUD, the EPA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer telephone, mail, and email assistance with consumers and construction professionals. If you need to hire a lead abatement professional, be sure to see proof that the contractor has completed EPA training and certification requirements in performing work effectively and safely.
Even if you choose to do the work yourself on your home, the EPA advises that you take an accredited renovation training class. For information, call 1(800) 424-LEAD, Monday-Friday, 8 am to 6 pm, Eastern time. Real estate agents, brokers, and property managers can read about the impact of the law and rules for compliance at Realtor.org.
Additional Old House Web and External Resources
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • The Lead Disclosure Rule • http://www.hud.gov • http://www.hud.gov/offices/lead/enforcement/disclosure.cfm
Woodrow Aames has written articles and profiles for Yahoo, Microsoft Network, Microsoft Encarta, and other websites and print magazines around the world. He holds an MFA degree and has taught English abroad.