Keeping Your Home Safe From Lead-Based Paints

Lara Fox

Part 4 of 8 in The Old House Web Home Hazards Series

If you live in a house built before 1978, you may be surrounded by lead-based paints. Even remnants of decades-old lead-based paints can cause serious harm to children and adults.

How are lead-based paints problematic?

Lead-based paints are toxic. They may cause lead poisoning, which can result in numerous other health concerns.

  • Children who contract lead poisoning may suffer from brain damage, impaired mental or physical function, headaches, and learning or behavioral problems.
  • Adults who contract lead poisoning may develop irritability, reduced muscle function, nerve damage, elevated blood pressure, memory problems, muscle or joint pain, and reduced reproductive ability. In pregnant woman, lead exposure can hinder proper fetal development.

Equally troubling is that you may not recognize the early symptoms of lead poisoning. Including fatigue, insomnia, and appetite loss, these symptoms are easily confused with indicators of other health problems.

Which houses have lead-based paints?

The paint used on walls, doors, windows, and other woodwork in the majority of houses built before 1940 included lead. Many pre-1960 houses also used lead-based paint. Since 1978, federal regulation has prevented paints from containing damaging levels of lead; thus homes built after that year should have a reduced risk of lead exposure. If you own an older house, consider testing its painted surfaces, water and pipes, and exterior soil for lead presence.

How can you protect your family from lead exposure?

The following five steps can minimize lead exposure in your home:

  • Keep floors and walls clean. As paint peels, loose paint chips become easy targets for young children, who often ingest them. Also, as you tread atop these chips or knock them free while opening windows, they break into paint dust, which you may inhale or get on your skin.
  • Regularly wash your and your children's hands after playing in or around the house. Also keep children's toys clean.
  • Contact your doctor or local health department to set up lead screenings for your family.
  • Take paint samples to a testing lab. The procedure costs $20 to $50 and is considered reliable.
  • Hire an inspector to assess the lead content throughout your home and determine the risk of lead exposure. The National Lead Information Center (http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/nlic.htm or 1-800-424-LEAD) can help you locate an accredited inspector and explain the process.
  • Hire contractors to remove lead-based paint from your home.

Learn as much as you can about lead-based paints. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site (http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/resourcecenter.htm) for a list of useful resources.

US Environmental Protection Agency • Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil • • http://www.epa.govhttp://www.epa.gov/lead/ • online,
Consumer Product Safety Commission • What You Should Know About Lead Based Paint in Your Home • • http://www.cpsc.govhttp://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/5054.html • online

About the Author

Lara Fox has worked as an editor and writer for the past decade. She holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in education policy.

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