Years ago, lead was a common ingredient found in both interior and exterior household paints. It acted as as a pigment and boasted increased durability. Lead based paint was banned in the United States starting in 1978; but millions of buildings, both residential and commercial still have lead based paint somewhere on the premises.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead paint can still be found in:

  • 24% of homes built from 1960-1978
  • 69% of homes built from 1940-1960
  • 87% of homes built before 1940

If the paint hasn’t yet chipped away and has been painted over with a non lead based product, it usually doesn’t pose a problem. But if it has been compromised by age, general wear and tear; or has been disrupted by scraping or sanding, it can present serious health risks to people, especially young children as their hands tend to favor their mouth. One less effect of lead exposure that is less thought of is that it can also be harmful to animals.

Negative Health Effects

Lead can enter the bloodstream by ingesting contaminated dust, eating paint chips, or breathing fumes or dust from sanding or torching. Symptoms can include headaches, hearing problems, muscle and joint pain, hypertension and digestive issues. Lead exposure can cause reproductive problems for both men and women, as well as difficulties during pregnancy. Loss of memory and concentration may also occur.

Children, primarily those under two years old, are extremely sensitive to lead. Exposure can result not only in the above listed symptoms, but in damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to lower I.Q levels, slowed growth and development,  learning and behavioral disorders.

It’s Best to Test

Before attempting to renovate or repaint an older home or commercial building, you should have the paint in the house tested for lead. Testing can be done one of three ways, in order of effectiveness.

  1. Professional X-ray fluorescence testing ($)
  2. Sending samples to a lab for testing ($ – $).
  3. A  Do-It-Yourself test kit ($).

DIY test kits typically use either sodium sulfide, which works well on most paints except for darker colors; or rhodizonate which can be used to test all paints with the exception of reds. Although the home test kits were initially found to be unreliable, a 2008 Consumer Report found that “First Alert Premium Lead Test Kit” (active ingredient sodium sulfide) and “SKC LeadCheck” (active ingredient rhodizonate) were effective lead detectors.

For accurate results, all the layers of paint need to be exposed to testing, especially older (base) ones. Be sure to read the instructions prior to testing and then follow them carefully. It’s also a good idea to conduct tests using both chemicals on dark or red colored paints.

Living with Lead

If you live in a house that has been painted with lead based products, but the layers are still in tact (no chipping or peeling), please consider the following precautions seriously. Children should be tested, preferably as soon as you become aware of potential exposure. Have children wash their hands often and clean toys, bottles and any other items that come in contact with the floor or ledges and the child’s mouth. Keep all floors and woodwork clean using a damp mop or sponge with warm soapy water, rinsing often. Invest in a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter;  change bags and filters regularly. Most importantly, prevent children from picking or peeling loose paint, ingesting the paint chips or gnawing on painted surfaces.

Removal and Remediation

When undertaking any kind of home improvement project that may disrupt the lead paint layers, homeowners do well to hire a professional who has been trained to deal with lead paint. This is for the protection of your family and your neighbors. You should arrange to have accommodations elsewhere while the work is being performed. If this is not an option, ask the contractor to COMPLETELY seal off the area being worked on, and disconnect any ductwork that could potentially spread dust to other parts of the home via the HVAC system. Undertaking the project on your own is doable but not advised. If that is an option you’d like to pursue further, we urge you to visit the National Lead Information Center website or call 1-800-424-5323 to be informed of proper procedure and precautions.

If you are looking to sell your lead laced home, but are worried that it might affect the sale, please contact us. Smart Choice Real Estate Solutions is an EPA Certified Firm for RRP of Lead based paint, specializing in the purchase and rehabilitation of homes affected by this poison.