Lead-based paint (LBP) is a concern in most homes built before 1978. In the U.S., White Lead was used extensively as a pigment in paint until the rising cost of lead in the 1960s prompted the use of alternative pigments. The growing awareness of lead poisoning resulted in the eventual ban of lead-based paint in 1978 when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the sale and distribution of residential paint containing lead. Before the decline in use and eventual ban of lead-based paint, it was considered a high quality and durable paint. It is estimated that over 80% of the homes built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint.
Exposure to Lead Paint in the Home
The primary concern with having lead-based paint in the home is lead poisoning from inhaling lead dust, ingesting lead dust from placing hands or other objects covered with lead dust in the mouth or even ingesting lead paint chips. Lead paint produces a white, chalky film of lead dust over time and, like all paints, will peel and chip when not maintained. Friction on painted surfaces such as doors and windows can also produce lead dust.
Particularly at risk are young children under the age of six years. Their innate and indiscriminate habits of putting objects in their mouths make them most susceptible to ingesting lead dust or paint chips. Their proportionally smaller body mass allows dangerously high concentrations of lead to develop more easily with minimal exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 10 percent of U.S. preschoolers suffer from high enough levels of lead in their blood to poison their systems. Also at risk from exposure to lead-based paint are pregnant women. Please note that some states or local authorities require some action if a child is found to have lead poisoning or is at risk of lead poisoning. Consult your state agency to see if state or local laws apply to you.
Identifying Lead in the Home
To identify the presence of lead-based paint in the home, it is recommended that painted surfaces be evaluated with an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine. The XRF is a portable measuring device that can be used on an unlimited number of surfaces and provide results on-site. These qualities make using the XRF the most thorough, non-invasive testing method available. It takes a qualified operator between two and four hours to complete an evaluation of a house.
Other types of tests involve chemical or laboratory analysis of painted surfaces, paint chips or dust. Laboratory analysis of wipe samples of dust is used to determine the presence of lead dust. A tester uses a cloth pad to dust a predetermined area of the floor or windowsill and the sample is then analyzed in a laboratory for the presence of lead. Chemical testing of painted surfaces by performing a chemical spot test or swipe test are used to determine the presence of lead in the surface paint. The chemicals used will produce a change in color to indicate the presence of lead. Since there are several concerns and limitations to chemical testing, including the toxicity of the chemicals and low accuracy, this method is not recommended. Finally, paint chips can be analyzed under an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer to determine if the paint contains lead. A paint sample is taken from a painted surface and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Though this analysis is more accurate, this method is generally expensive and used to confirm XRF test results.
Dealing with Lead Paint in the Home
Generally, if no children live in the home and the paint is in good condition (no flaking, peeling or lead dust), the health risk associated with lead paint is considered minimal. No action is generally required in this situation. However, if children live in a home or the paint is releasing lead dust or paint chips, a health risk exists and some action to reduce exposure should occur. Repairing damaged surfaces and cleaning contaminated areas is recommended for removing the immediate health risk. More permanent solutions such as removal and encapsulation should also be performed to reduce the continued health risk.
Complete removal of the lead paint is the most desirable solution, but is also expensive and impractical in some cases. A popular alternative is a partial removal. Partial removal involves the removal of lead paint from areas most likely to cause a hazard. These surfaces include chewable surfaces, such as windowsills or bookshelves, that a child may chew, all surfaces four feet from floor level and surfaces subject to friction (door jambs and window sashes). Removal costs can range from $3000 for partial removal to $30,000 for complete lead removal.
Lead-based paint in good condition can be treated with a special epoxy-based encapsulant paint that will help contain the lead dust. Though this method is considerably less expensive than removal, it does not prevent the lead paint from becoming a hazard in the future. Encapsulation is best used in conjunction with a partial removal.
Please note that several state and local authorities presently regulate the abatement industry and may mandate certain methods for dealing with lead paint. Always ensure that the abatement performed complies with state and county codes.
In October 1992, Congress passed the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, also known as Title X. Section 1018 of this law directed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require disclosure of information on lead-based paint prior to the sale of most housing built before 1978. This requirement went into effect on September 6, 1996, for owners of four or more dwelling units, and on December 6, 1996, for all other property owners and agents.
Homeowners (and landlords) are required to disclose any knowledge of lead paint and provide home buyers (and leasers) with a 10-day opportunity to conduct a risk assessment or inspection for the presence of lead-based paint hazards before becoming obligated under the contract to purchase the property.
Title X also requires that home buyers (and leasers) read the Lead Warning Statement and receive a copy of the EPA pamphlet, Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home. Finally, all parties must sign a Disclosure Statement indicating that regulations have been followed.
Lead poisoning is the intoxication of the body resulting from the absorption of lead into the system. The federal government has determined that levels above l0ug/dL require some type of action. Lead can enter the body by inhaling dust, fumes, or sprays containing lead or by the ingestion of food or other substances that contain lead. Lead poisoning can result in neurological damage, developmental impairment and other health problems. In children, lead poisoning can result in: damage to brain and nervous system, behavioral and learning problems, retarded growth, impaired hearing and kidney damage. In pregnant women, lead poisoning can result in abnormal development of the child. In adults, lead poisoning can result in high blood pressure headaches, digestive problems, kidney problems, memory and concentration problems, mood changes and neurological disorders.
White Lead is a mixture of lead carbonate and lead hydroxide and is one of the oldest pigments used in paint. White lead is also used in putty and certain types of pottery. Over time, lead-based paint may react with certain compounds found in the atmosphere and develop a chalky film. White lead is considered very poisonous.