You Should Know About Lead Based Paint in Your Home: Safety Alert
paint is hazardous to your health.
paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also
affect adults. In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain
damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical
development and reduce attention span. It can also retard fetal development
even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability,
poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves
controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction
(such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure.
Thus, young children, fetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure
are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.
should be screened for lead poisoning.
communities where the houses are old and deteriorating, take advantage
of available screening programs offered by local health departments
and have children checked regularly to see if they are suffering from
lead poisoning. Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy
to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning
without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness,
irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention
span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early
stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage.
The current blood lead level which defines lead poisoning is 10 micrograms
of lead per deciliter of blood. However, since poisoning may occur at
lower levels than previously thought, various federal agencies are considering
whether this level should be lowered further so that lead poisoning
prevention programs will have the latest information on testing children
for lead poisoning.
can be exposed to lead from paint.
paint chips is one way young children are exposed to lead. It is not
the most common way that consumers, in general, are exposed to lead.
Ingesting and inhaling lead dust that is created as lead-based paint
"chalks," chips, or peels from deteriorated surfaces can expose
consumers to lead. Walking on small paint chips found on the floor,
or opening and closing a painted frame window, can also create lead
dust. Other sources of lead include deposits that may be present in
homes after years of use of leaded gasoline and from industrial sources
like smelting. Consumers can also generate lead dust by sanding lead-based
paint or by scraping or heating lead-based paint.
Lead dust can settle on floors, walls, and furniture. Under these conditions,
children can ingest lead dust from hand-to-mouth con- tact or in food.
Settled lead dust can re-enter the air through cleaning, such as sweeping
or vacuuming, or by movement of people throughout the house.
Older homes may contain lead based paint.
was used as a pigment and drying agent in "alkyd" oil based
paint. "Latex" water based paints generally have not contained
lead. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one-half of
the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint. Some
homes built after 1960 also contain heavily-leaded paint. It may be
on any interior or exterior surface, particularly on woodwork, doors,
and windows. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered
the legal maximum lead content in most kinds of paint to 0.06% (a trace
amount). Consider having the paint in homes constructed before the 1980s
tested for lead before renovating or if the paint or underlying surface
is deteriorating. This is particularly important if infants, children,
or pregnant women are present.
can have paint tested for lead.
are do-it-yourself kits available. However, the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission has not evaluated any of these kits. One home test
kit uses sodium sulfide solution. This procedure requires you to place
a drop of sodium sulfide solution on a paint chip. The paint chip slowly
turns darker if lead is present. There are problems with this test,
however. Other metals may cause false positive results, and resins in
the paint may prevent the sulfide from causing the paint chip to change
color. Thus, the presence of lead may not be correctly indicated. In
addition the darkening may be detected only on very light-colored paint.
Another in-home test requires a trained professional who can operate
the equipment safely. This test uses X-ray fluorescence to determine
if the paint contains lead. Although the test can be done in your home,
it should be done only by professionals trained by the equipment manufacturer
or who have passed a state or local government training course, since
the equipment contains radioactive materials. In addition, in some tests,
the method has not been reliable.
Consumers may choose to have a testing laboratory test a paint sample
for lead. Lab testing is considered more reliable than other methods.
Lab tests may cost from $20 to $50 per sample. To have the lab test
for lead paint, consumers may:
sample containers from the lab or use re-sealable plastic bags. Label
the containers or bags with the consumer's name and the location in
the house from which each paint sample was taken. Several samples
should be taken from each affected room (see HUD Guidelines discussed
a sharp knife to cut through the edges of the sample paint. The lab
should tell you the size of the sample needed. It will probably be
about 2 inches by 2 inches.
off the paint with a clean putty knife and put it into the container.
Be sure to take a sample of all layers of paint, since only the lower
layers may contain lead. Do not include any of the underlying wood,
plaster, metal, and brick.
the surface and any paint dust with a wet cloth or paper towel and
discard the cloth or towel.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that
action to reduce exposure should be taken when the lead in paint is
greater than 0.5% by lab testing or greater than 1.0 milligrams per
square centimeter by X-ray fluorescence. Action is especially important
when paint is deteriorating or when infants, children, or pregnant women
are present. Consumers can reduce exposure to lead-based paint.
If you have lead-based paint, you should take steps to reduce
your exposure to lead. You can:
1. Have the painted item replaced.
can replace a door or other easily removed item if you can do it without
creating lead dust. Items that are difficult to remove should be replaced
by professionals who will control and contain lead dust.
Cover the lead-based paint.
can spray the surface with a sealant or cover it with gypsum wallboard.
However, painting over lead-based paint with non-lead paint is not
a long-term solution. Even though the lead-based paint may be covered
by non-lead paint, the lead-based paint may continue to loosen from
the surface below and create lead dust. The new paint may also partially
mix with the lead-based paint, and lead dust will be released when
the new paint begins to deteriorate.
Have the lead-based paint removed.
professionals trained in removing lead-based paint do this work. Each
of the paint-removal methods (sandpaper, scrapers, chemicals, sandblasters,
and torches or heat guns) can produce lead fumes or dust. Fumes or
dust can become airborne and be inhaled or ingested. Wet methods help
reduce the amount of lead dust. Removing moldings, trim, window sills,
and other painted surfaces for professional paint stripping outside
the home may also create dust. Be sure the professionals contain the
lead dust. Wet-wipe all surfaces to remove any dust or paint chips.
Wet-clean the area before re-entry.
can remove a small amount of lead-based paint if you can avoid creating
any dust. Make sure the surface is less than about one square foot
(such as a window sill). Any job larger than about one square foot
should be done by professionals. Make sure you can use a wet method
(such as a liquid paint stripper).
Reduce lead dust exposure.
can periodically wet mop and wipe surfaces and floors with a high
phosphorous (at least 5%) cleaning solution. Wear waterproof gloves
to prevent skin irritation. Avoid activities that will disturb or
damage lead based paint and create dust. This is a preventive measure
and is not an alternative to replacement or removal.
are available to remove, replace, or cover lead-based paint.
Contact your state and local health departments lead poisoning prevention
programs and housing authorities for information about testing labs
and contractors who can safely remove lead-based paint.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prepared
guidelines for removing lead-based paint which were published in the
Federal Register, April 18, 1990, page 1455614614. Ask contractors
about their qualifications, experience removing lead-based paint,
and plans to follow these guidelines.
should keep children and other occupants (especially infants, pregnant
women, and adults with high blood pressure) out of the work area
until the job is completed.
should remove all food and eating utensils from the work area.
should remove all furniture, carpets, and drapes and seal the work
area from the rest of the house. The contractor also should cover
and seal the floor unless lead paint is to be removed from the floor.
should assure that workers wear respirators designed to avoid inhaling
should not allow eating or drinking in the work area. Contractors
should cover and seal all cabinets and food contact surfaces.
should dispose of clothing worn in the room after working. Workers
should not wear work clothing in other areas of the house. The contractor
should launder work clothes separately.
should clean up debris using special vacuum cleaners with HEPA (high
efficiency particulate air) filters and should use a wet mop after
should dispose of lead-based paint waste and contaminated materials
in accordance with state and local regulations.
officials and health professionals continue to develop advice about
removing lead-based paint. Watch for future publications by government
agencies, health departments, and other groups concerned with lead-paint
removal and prevention of lead poisoning.