Lead isn't something to be afraid of, but rather something to be aware of. When people call asking about lead testing in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, I usually end up talking them out of it. I tell my clients that if their house was built before 1960, it's almost a guarantee that the paint in the house has lead. If the house was built before 1978, there's a 3-in-4 chance it has lead. Lead stopped being added to paint in 1978.
Lead is primarily a concern for fetuses and young children. Elevated blood lead levels in children will lead to lower IQs, shorter attention spans, and developmental delays, among other things. Infants are more prone to lead exposure because they put everything, including their hands, in their mouth. Toddlers touch everything and put everything in their mouth, so a child playing on a floor with lead dust is at high risk for lead poisoning. Window sills are also a great place for children to chew while peering out the window.
To keep children safe from lead poisoning or elevated blood lead levels, here are some tips:
- Keep a clean house. This is the most important one. Painted double-hung windows rub on the track every time they open and close, and this creates dust. The EPA recommends using powdered dishwasher detergent (which has a high phosphate content) in warm water to clean floors and windows, which are the two most common places for lead to accumulate. Ordinary multi-purpose cleaners are not effective at removing lead dust.
- Do not remove old paint yourself; if you need old paint removed, have it tested for lead, and professionally abated if needed.
- Try to keep your children from playing in dirt, and especially from eating it. Dirt can get contaminated with lead from scraping old paint on the outside of a house. If they must play with dirt, wash their hands after being outside.
Most parents that call me asking about having lead tested are the same parents that will take the necessary steps to prevent their children from getting lead poisoning. They are concerned parents that will wash their children's hands, keep them from eating dirt, and keep a clean house. This is why I don't recommend testing for lead. To be clear, I'm not telling anyone to not test for lead, I just don't recommend it.
If I perform a lead test and find that the paint contains lead, I recommend to the client the same things I just listed above. The EPA recommends leaving lead paint alone, or having it professionally removed, which can be quite costly; so much so that it typically isn't done any more. If your home was built before 1978, assume there is lead and take the neccessary precautions.
For more detailed information from the EPA, follow these links below.
Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections