Older homes built before 1978 are often renovated to appeal to homeowners or home buyers. Unfortunately, renovations often mean coming in contact with lead-based paint. That can severely impact a person’s health.
Scientists have known for more than a hundred years that lead exposure can cause to health issues. However, the history of lead paint is that for many years lead was added to paint because it was thought to make it more durable and to enhance the colors. Some areas, such as Baltimore, started banning lead pigments in the housing industry as early as the 1950’s. In 1971 the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act was passed, but the United States government didn’t ban the use of lead paint by consumers until 1978.
According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe amount of lead exposure. Any exposure to lead affects the body’s organs, and it can be particularly detrimental to a fetus, causing miscarriage and stillbirth. Small children exposed to lead – such as that found in crumbling paint in older homes – are particularly vulnerable, because they can develop brain abnormalities including behavior and learning issues. Growth may be affected. Lead exposure has been linked to behavior problems and juvenile delinquency.
In adults, lead exposure may show up in subtle ways, such as fatigue or headaches, or there may be more overt symptoms such as muscle soreness, gastrointestinal problems, kidney damage, reproductive issues, or high blood pressure.
The Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has developed guidelines for anyone handling lead-based paint. The EPA’s RRP program requires anyone working on home renovations to adhere to strict guidelines when handling paint. Even newer paint often has old lead-based paint underneath it.
UNDERSTANDING THE LEVEL OF LEAD IN YOUR HOME
The important question to be answered is: does my house contain lead-based paint? What year was the house built? If your house was built before 1978, there’s a good chance it has lead paint. Listed below are the estimations on that amount, based on the year your home was built:
If your house was built:
1940 or earlier — there’s an 87% chance of lead contamination
1940-59 — there’s a 69% chance of lead contamination
1960-77 — there’s a 24% chance of lead contamination
Paint is not the only source of lead. Additionally, homes may contain lead pipes, and there may be lead in the soil around the home. Lead dust can be carried in on clothing.
Porches, fences, windowsills and doors are often sources of lead in older homes. Windowsills are particularly susceptible, as they often contain peeling paint and windows are in motion, weakening the paint. Small children can be exposed because they like to put objects (like paint chips) in their mouths. Pets can also be exposed to lead.
Because lead particles are often found in the air of older buildings, so it’s critical to reduce dust or floating particles during a renovation. If you are raising a child in an older home you must take precautions to limit your child’s lead exposure.
Activities such as scraping, sanding, using blow torches, using chemical peelers — all of these can generate lead dust and particles, and lead fumes. When lead-based paint is heated, scraped, or sanded, lead particles get into the air.
ARE YOU DOING YOUR OWN HOME RENOVATIONS?
If you are doing your renovations to an older home where there is likely to be exposure to lead, there are steps which can reduce or eliminate the possibility of lead exposure.
Before any home renovation, hire a certified contractor to come into the home and test for the presence of lead. Identifying where lead poisoning may occur is critical.
- Avoid using tap water in cooking, until water has been tested
- Use goggles, gloves, face masks – anything to prevent particles from getting into your body
- Cover large pieces of furniture with plastic if it’s staying in the rooms where renovations are occurring
- Keep children and pregnant women out of the work area entirely
- Let tap water run for a minute before using if the home has old pipes
- Clean surfaces carefully every day
- Cover doorways with heavy plastic draping
- Keep surfaces free of dust by using a HEPA vacuum — HEPA filters remove 99.97% of particles from the air
- When sanding, scraping, or peeling paint off of any surface, be sure to wear a face mask and make sure the area is well-ventilated
- If possible, use a wet sander
IF YOU ARE USING AN OUTSIDE CONTRACTOR
If you’ve hired an outside contractor to do the renovations, what should you tell your home renovator?
- Make sure the chemical strippers used do not contain methylene chloride
- Ask them to use a HEPA vacuum
- Make sure heat guns aren’t used on painted surfaces, especially at 1,100 F or more
- Wet sanders are better at reducing dust, so ask them to use those
At the end of the job, have another inspection done by a Certified Lead-based Paint Inspector.
Proper cleaning of the area where lead particles or fumes may be in the air is critical. It’s important to keep in mind that sponges, rags, paper towels, water — all may contain lead dust. Whether you do the work yourself or hire an outside contractor, these are the critical steps to cleaning the area:
- Wear gloves and face masks
- Clean the area thoroughly each day, after work has been completed
- Roll up plastic sheeting carefully, trapping the dust inside the layers
- Make sure the paint chips and dust are collected and sealed in a heavy-duty bag each evening
- Put rags, paper towels, and mops in plastic bags and seal them carefully before exposure
- For washing, use two water buckets, one with a cleaning solution and one with rinse water; use a wet vacuum on the dirty water
It’s a good idea to repeat the cleaning an hour afterward because the dust will have settled. It’s important not to use the family’s normally-used vacuum cleaner to clean up dust or paint chips. After the cleanup, make sure to wash yourself carefully!
If you think there may be contaminated soil outside the house, that needs to go away also. Large paint chips can be raked or picked up. Make sure the soil is disposed of properly, in heavy duty bags which are then properly sealed, or buried deeply where children and pets won’t come into contact with it. Burying of lead dust or soil is allowed in most places.
WHAT IF I THINK MY FAMILY HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO LEAD?
The amount of lead in the body can be tested by a physician. If it’s found, there is treatment. Chelation therapy is a method of removing heavy metals from the blood. It may require hospitalization.
If the proper steps are taken during the renovation of an older home, the project can be safe. It’s important to involve an inspector and to make sure after everything is completed that your home is lead-free and your family and pets have not been affected by lead.