Does your older home have lead paint?

It’s time to spruce up your house, garden, outbuilding and environs to prepare for summer.


One of the first things we often talk about this time of year is about what a difference washing and/or painting the exterior of your home makes – in both protecting and beautifying it.


However, it’s been a while since we’ve talked in detail about the importance of determining if your house has lead paint from the past. If that is the case, significant changes must be made in how you proceed.


The risk is big

Deteriorated or chipping and peeling lead-based paint or leaded dust can pose serious health risks, especially for young children.


The concerns about lead-based paint come to the foreground when you’re considering renovating or remodeling your home, or if the paint is chipping or the paint will be disturbed.


Lead-based paint was very prevalent, particularly in homes built or painted before 1978. Lead-based paint poses a similar concern for homeowners as well as apartment dwellers.


The good news is that in most cases, lead-based paint in good condition is not a hazard and removing chipping and peeling lead-based paint safely isn’t that difficult.


Let’s start with a little history.


Why was lead added to paint?

Years and years ago, folks figured out that adding lead to paint helped it adhere better to surfaces, enhanced the color, made it stay shinier and last longer, especially in harsh weather conditions.


But in 1978, once folks figured out how dangerous lead-based paint could be, the federal government outlawed its production. (Some states had already done so.)


Now, any paint having more than one-half of one percent of lead is considered lead-based and therefore outlawed in the U.S. for residential use.


In the meantime, paint with lead in it had been used in homes for years both for interior and exterior paint.


How are people exposed to lead?

People can get lead into their systems by breathing or swallowing lead dust or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.


It is particularly dangerous to children because babies and young children like to chew just about anything they can get their little teeth on, including windowsills, railings, wainscoting and anything else in the “chew zone.”


In addition, they can pick and eat peeling paint and they put just about everything they grab into their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.


The danger for children is increased because their growing bodies absorb a higher percentage of lead and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.


What are the effects of lead?

As the years go on since the outlawing of lead paint in houses, fewer children in this country have a blood-lead level above the level of concern.


Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies. A simple blood test can determine if someone has lead in his/her bloodstream.


If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system

  • Behavior and learning problems (including hyperactivity)

  • Slowed growth

  • Hearing problems

  • Headaches


In addition, adults who have taken in lead can suffer from:

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Nerve disorders

  • Digestive problems

  • High blood pressure

  • Difficulties during pregnancy

  • Other reproductive problems (in both men and women)

Some words of caution

In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. Remember that this includes apartments, condos, government housing, as well as typical houses.


Again, there’s no immediate need for concern if the lead-based paint is in good shape or is under other layers of non lead-based paint, if you’re not planning to disturb it, and if there’s not a likelihood that a small child could pick at it or suck on it.


However, if you’re planning on cutting, sawing, or sanding a wall with lead-based paint you need to take precautions.”


Law requires warnings for lead

A federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting, buying or renovating pre-1978 housing:


Landlords have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.


Sellers have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.


Renovators before beginning work on your house are required to give you a HUD pamphlet on lead-based paints.


More on lead next week

Next week we’ll tell you ways to determine if you have lead-based paint in your home, some options for removing it or other ways to protect yourself and your family.

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