Many homes built before 1978, still contain potentially dangerous levels of lead in the form of lead-based paint, lead solders in old plumbing or lead dust in the soil, but the problem may not be as hard to fix as you may have heard. And in some cases, it’s best to just leave well enough alone.
Lead poisoning in children can lead to headaches, hearing problems, slow body development, and brain damage. In adults, it can cause difficulties in pregnant women, harm reproduction, cause nerve and kidney damage, muscles and joint pain, and interfere with digestion, memory and concentration.
Lead in paints that are wearing well on walls and ceilings aren’t the problem – it’s the lead dust that gets into the lungs and bloodstream when you try to remove it.
Lead-based paint on windows, doors, stairs, porches and other hard-use surfaces can peel, chip and crack. If you dry scrape it off, you’ll release dust in the air. Lead dust can also be released when lead-coated objects interact, such as a window banging on a sill over the years. And it can hang around a long time, get stirred up by breezes and sweepers, and resettle on furniture that you and your children touch without realizing it.
If you think you may have lead paint that needs to be removed, don’t start sanding and scraping yet. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends getting a paint inspection and a risk assessment for peeling paint and lead dust. A professional inspector can inspect and/or test every painted surface in your home, or you can use the less accurate, but convenient home test kits.
You can also hire a contractor who is trained to remediate lead paint. Your local health and environmental agency will have a list of inspectors and contractors. See: www.epa.gov/lead.
If you decide to remove or paint over lead paint, there are a few things you should do to insure your family’s and your safety:
• Wear protective clothing, safety glasses, disposable gloves, masks, and shoe covers.
• Do one room at a time and completely seal it off with protective plastic sheeting, including doors, windows, and floors.
• Remove as much furniture as you can and cover the remainder with sheeting and tape it in place.
• Keep children and pregnant women away from the lead paint remediation.
• Keep dust from flying by using a hand mister. Wet the area before you scrape or sand. Also wet plastic sheets – they can catch dust for you. Mist them again before you roll them up and throw them away.
• Change water for mister often.
• Be careful when disposing of lead-paint debris. Roll plastic sheet inward, so all dust is contained. Double bag all garbage.
• Clean the area thoroughly and take a shower and wash your hair before you start repainting.
No matter how cautious you are, you and your family may have a little lead in your bodies. The best protection is to eat nutritious meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. The EPA says that children with good diets absorb less lead.