By Kimberly Martin on 30 May 2014.
Over many years, lead—a naturally-occurring metal found in the Earth—has been used as an ingredient for dozens of household items and products. Common materials like gasoline, paint, pipe soldering, drinking water pipes, vinyl, brass, shingles, and more have all used lead as an ingredient in the past. Because lead is such a durable, useful metal, its widespread use in these items doesn’t come as a surprise. The downfall is lead’s toxicity to human health. That’s why today we’re informing you on the risks of lead in older homes and what you can do to combat it if you think your home is at risk.
Long-term exposure to lead can cause a variety of health problems that can be very severe: brain damage, organ damage, blood development issues, nervous system damage, and more. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned or heavily restricted the use of lead in paint and other products. If your home was built in or before 1978, it may contain lead in paint (most common), pipes, windowsills, doors, stairs, porches, or even the landscaping. So where’s the danger, you ask? Lead can be introduced into the body if a person:
- Inhales lead dust (during renovation, repairs, or even painting that disturbs an old, lead-based layer)
- Ingests lead dust that has settled on food or on prep surfaces in the kitchen
- Ingests lead through drinking water from pipes containing lead
- Eats lead-contaminated paint chips or soil (habits that may occur in children)
Symptoms of lead-related health problems often go unnoticed until they are severe in nature. Therefore, do not rely on your family’s personal health to evaluate your older home’s toxicity levels. If your home was built in or before 1978, you and your family may be at risk.
What Do I Do?
If you want to confirm or deny your suspicions of lead’s presence in your home, there are three steps you must take. Do not choose just one—apply them all to collect the most information possible.
- Hire a Lead-Safe Certified professional to inspect the paint in your home and perform a risk assessment of other areas. Such tests will determine if lead is in your home and whether or not your home is immediately a danger to your family. The expert will explain if your home has severe exposure or if it may pose a future threat down the road as the lead slowly affects your family health. If the professional identifies many risks or high levels of lead in your home, you must take careful precautions whenever you renovate your home in the future, no matter how small the project may be.
- Use a lead-testing kit to sample your water. Purchasing one of these kits is vital for testing your drinking and cooking water. These will allow you to take samples of the water from your sinks or other faucets and send them off for evaluation at a lab. If they come back positive, flush out all of the pipes in your home and inform your family they must only use cold water for drinking and cooking. If possible, replace the lead-laced piping immediately.
- Test your children and family members for high levels of lead in their body. If you discover lead in your home in any way, test your family as soon as possible—especially your children, as they are most easily affected by the damages of lead. As mentioned earlier, symptoms of lead-based problems are usually unrecognizable or even not present at all. Typically, by the time you notice the problem, it has already become too severe. By having your family members evaluated, a doctor can identify the high levels of lead in the body and help treat it immediately before it becomes a major issue.
Renovating and Maintaining a Lead-Risk Home
If you have renovation projects to initiate in a home with the risk or presence of lead—whether the project is to remove the source of lead threats or for other reasons—we strongly caution against doing this renovation yourself. Without the proper training, skills, tools, and equipment, you pose a risk not only to yourself but also to your family when you try to renovate your home. Instead, hire a Lead-Safe Certified professional to perform the renovation for you and keep the risks to a minimum or eliminate them entirely. Keeping your family safe is priority if you live in a lead-risk home, so don’t take chances.
Even simple maintenance around the home like cleaning requires special steps. Research the best methods for each individual cleaning project you perform around your home regularly. Even the smallest steps, like vacuuming, can stir up lead dust in your home if you’re not careful. The Environmental Protection Agency has a website branch dedicated to lead, as does the D.C. Environmental Department. Both of these sites will give you detailed information on lead, the acts to protect citizens from lead poisoning, and suggestions for keeping risks to a minimum in maintaining your home.
If you’re going to hunt down a Lead-Safe Certified professional to assess your home or help renovate it, we would be happy to help. Simply visit Snehta’s website and locate a local, trusted expert near you to help keep your home—and your family—as safe as possible.