Lead Paint in Your Home

Information on lead exposure in the home and how to protect your family.

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Prior to 1978, lead was a common additive in many household paints. It was banned that year because it can cause significant health problems in children and in adults. If you live in a structure that was built prior to 1978, it is important to find out if you or members of your family are being exposed to lead and to what extent. If tests reveal high levels of lead in someone's bloodstream, you need to take action immediately. The information in this article can help.

Most Lead Exposure Comes From Dust, Chips

Before it was banned, lead was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, solder, pottery, and many other products. As a result, lead can be found in dust, paint, soil, drinking water, and food.

Lead paint that is in good condition does not pose an immediate hazard. The greatest problem with lead paint comes from the paint disintegrating over time and covering floors and other surfaces with dust and chips. People then breathe in or ingest the substance, which then gets absorbed into the bloodstream.

Children Are Especially Vulnerable

Children are at greater risk for lead exposure for several reasons. They are more likely to ingest paint dust as they crawl on the floor, lick their hands, and place dusty objects in their mouths. They are also more likely to actually pick up paint chips and eat them.  When outside, they play in and eat soil, which can contain lead.

Once ingested, lead paint is more problematic in children, who absorb it at a higher rate than do adults. Because children experience such rapid growth and development in their early years, lead exposure has an especially disastrous effect.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 310,000 children have unsafe levels of lead in their blood -- most of it a result of lead paint. If you live in a structure built prior to 1978 and your child has unexplained health or behavioral problems (chronically cranky or tired, stomach complaints, headaches, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping), your child may be suffering from lead poisoning. 

Lead Poisoning Causes Severe Health Problems

High levels of lead in children can lead to delayed mental and physical development, brain damage, neurological impairments, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and reduced attention span.

Pregnant women who are exposed to lead are at risk of abnormal development of their fetuses. They are also at higher risk for miscarriages and still births.

In children and adults, lead poisoning can cause hypertension, irritability, muscle and joint impairment and pain, nerve and brain damage, anemia, reduced kidney function, seizures, coma, and death.

Things to Do To Protect Your Family

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has an Office of Healthy Homes and lead hazard Control (www.hud.gov/offices/lead/), which publishes a lot of helpful information about lead. In addition, the federal government publishes a helpful and free pamphlet, Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home, that explains what you can do inexpensively yet effectively to protect your family from lead.

Among the recommendations are:

  • Keep your house clean and dust free (by wiping down surfaces, for example, and using a HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner)
  • Wash children's bottles and toys frequently
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Feed children a healthy and low fat diet rich in calcium and iron (children with healthy diets absorb less lead)
  • Take off shoes before entering the house (to prevent tracking in lead-contaminated soil), and
  • Have your children tested for lead (this can be done through a simple blood test at the doctor's office).

When You Rent or Buy A Home

The federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (also known as Title X) requires almost all sellers and landlords of housing built before 1978 to disclose known lead paint hazards and to provide available reports to buyers or renters before selling or leasing a home. Buyers and renters get ten days to conduct testing at their expense. In addition, the seller or landlord must distribute to the buyer or renter a copy of the pamphlet Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home, which describes lead poisoning. Home renovators also must provide their clients with this pamphlet.

Testing Your Home

Consumers can purchase do-it-yourself test kits from home improvement stores and paint stores. Although these kits will tell you if the paint contains lead, they will not tell you how high the levels are or whether the paint poses a hazard. In addition, these kits are not always accurate.

Indeed, the best way to find out if your home has a lead paint hazard is to hire someone to inspect your home and do a risk assessment. To find a certified inspector in your area, contact 1-800-424-LEAD.

If You or Your Child Has an Injury

If you or your child suffers from a permanent health problem as a result of lead poisoning, consider talking to a personal injury lawyer about your legal rights. Possible damages include medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering, compensation for emotional distress, loss of income, and repair and remediation costs.

Possible defendants in lead-paint actions include building owners, building managers, landlords, people who controlled the premises, and manufacturers of lead-based paint.

Although most of the reported cases involve children who ingested lead paint dust and chips, adults can also allege exposure through such things as inhaling lead paint dust while stripping paint or otherwise disturbing the paint during remodeling.

Finding a Good Personal Injury Lawyer

One good way to find a lawyer is to ask friends, acquaintances, or other lawyers for referrals -- and then interview the candidates. In addition, Nolo provides a personalized lawyer directory with information about each lawyer's experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. By using Nolo's directory you can narrow down candidates before calling them for a phone or face-to-face interview. For more details on locating and selecting a good personal injury lawyer, read Nolo's article on Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer.

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