As with any environmental issue, you may wonder if lead is really worth all of the hoopla and attention. To give perspective, the CDC estimates that 535,000 US children
aged 1–5 years had blood lead levels exceeding their established threshold of BLLs ≥5 µg/dL. That is a lot of children with unnecessary health problems.   

The CDC, HUD, OSHA and the EPA seldom agree on an issue or cause, but they each regulate lead as a hazard. Lead has and continues to be a serious health hazard that affects our children and many adult workers 

We most commonly hear of lead in paint, but it can be a problem caused by many other sources, some of which will probably surprise you.

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Until 1978, we used lead to improve the performance of our paint.  Lead is added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion. Lead was assed to other finished including stains and varnishes.  

The sweet taste accompanied by some lipsticks is due to lead acetate. Lead acetate also appears as an active ingredient in some hair dyes. The compound, through repeated applications, gradually builds up in the hair, turning the hair a dark brown or black color when it binds to protein. Imported mascara often includes high concentrations of lead. 

Lead is used to keep plastics pliable. Artificial Christmas trees and decorations, particularly those made in China are known sources of lead. The lead dust comes off of the plastic. Many plastic toys, imported jewelry, ceramics and panted wooden toys have lead. Ceramic glaze on a coffee cup or a crystal decanter containing alcohol can be a source of lead poisoning.  As one example, Thomas the Tank wooden train sets were recalled for lead in the paint.  This Consumer Product Commission recall on June 13, 2007 caught my personal attention as this was a very high end toy that my grandson happened to play with.    

The lead issue is not a new problem. Lead poisoning has a history going back to the Roman Empire. Lead Acetate was used to sweeten wines, and is considered the first artificial sweetener. Lead acetate also eliminated insects in the wine, by damaging their nervous systems.  That process of damage to nerve tissues also affects the nervous system of people, particularly children and pregnant women.  Lead was also used by the Romans as a liner in the aqueducts and for making eating utensils and pots and pans. 

As a home inspector, this author inspected a residence within the last week that had a lead water service line. Western PA as well as many other areas of the country still have lead pipes used for main municipal water supply pipes.

Lead is particularly dangerous to children under the age of 6, fetus’s in utero and pregnant women. The growing bodies more quickly absorb lead. The lead paints taste sweet and children are also more at risk as they chew paint chips, toys and other objects with lead in paint and plastic. Children also put their hands in their mouths with lead dust on them.

Health Effects of Lead in Children According to the EPA
Damage to the brain and nervous system
Behavior and hearing problems
Lowering of IQ
Slow physical growth

Health Effects of Lead in Adults According to the EPA
Nervous system effects
Cardiovascular effects
Decreased kidney function
Reproductive problems
Miscarriage and premature birth in women 

Keeping Your Home Lead Safe

  • Keep all surfaces well painted. HUD suggests no more than 1 square inch of peeling paint
  • Repair the causes of peeling paint such as leaks promptly
  • Keep the home dust free
  • Wet mop wood floors that may contain lead
  • Wet wipe friction areas such as where windows and doors rub
  • Do not use steel wool or friction pads on surfaces that may contain lead
  • Run water for 30 seconds before using for drinking or food preparation to reduce lead in lines
  • Use only cold water to prepare foods
  • Teach children to wash hands and remove shoes after playing outside
  • Use lead safe procedures for hobbies that use lead such as ceramics, stained glass, fish lures.
  • Do not use sweepers with beater bars of mops with scrubber strips on finishes that contain lead
  • Do not shake or beat carpets in homes that may contain lead dust.

Testing for Lead

Physicians can test for lead in blood. This is a simple test that should be conducted if there is any possibility that lead exposure could occur in the home, school, daycare or any other place a child may spend time.  

Surfaces can be tested for lead using 3M Lead Check Swabs. These EPA approved tests determine of lead is on the surface of tested finishes and are available from 3M directly or other retail outlets. Call 800-949-3552 or go to www.leadcheck.com/contactus to order  

Layers of paint can be tested using EPA approved D-Lead test systems. These tests use a punch tool and allow testing of all of the layers of paint at a location. These can be used for applying the EPA RRP rule. Locate a distributor at www.esca-tech.com or call 414-962-3006

XRF standing for X-Ray Fluorescence is a HUD approved methodology that would only be available from a highly trained and licensed lead assessment professional.  

Hiring Home Improvement Contractors

 EPA signed a new regulation Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP)regarding the renovation of child-occupied buildings built before 1978 on April 22, 2008. Under the rule, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based coatings (including lead paint, shellac or varnish) in child-occupied facilities built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. EPA’s RRP rule impacts many construction trades, including general contractors and special trade contractors, painters, plumbers, carpenters, window installers, wood floor refinishers and electricians Activities performed by all of these trades can disturb lead-based paint and have the potential to create hazardous lead dust.

The rule establishes minimum training, renovation methods, required educational pamphlets and notifications to occupants for most types of housing. 

Work on your home should be completed with basic containment, personal protection and cleaning methods to protect your family form lead contamination. The address to search for a certified firm is: http://cfpub.epa.gov/flpp/searchrrp_firm.htm 

When Buying a Home Using a Federal Program

The HUD/EPA Disclosure Rule establishes a homebuyer’s right to conduct a lead hazard evaluation

  • The rule applies if a homeowner is using federal assistance
  • The homebuyer is granted 10 days to have a lead assessment performed on a home purchase.
  • The buyer and seller can agree to change the number of days
  • The buyer can waive that right to a lead assessment by doing so in writing
  • The buyer is responsible for the cost of the assessment and testing
  • If the testing and assessment is positive for lead, the buyer has the right to cancel the transaction.
  • The seller is not required to take any action if the assessment is positive for lead
  • If the evaluation reveals intact lead –based paint hazards, there is no action to be taken
  • The Lead Safe Housing rule requires stabilization of deteriorated paint and passing clearance prior to property acquisition.
What this actually means in practice is that for HUD, FHA and VA programs, if there is more than 1 square inch of peeling paint, the loose and scaling paint needs removed in a lead safe manner by an approved professional and the area prepare, primed and painted to protect form additional peeling.