What You Need to Know About Lead Paint in Your Home


If your home is over 50 years old and hasn’t been renovated since it was originally built, there’s a chance that there’s lead paint lurking somewhere within the space.

Why should you care? Because lead paint can pose some potentially serious health risks that could compromise your health and that of your family.

In fact, thousands of people – mostly children – suffer from some level of lead poisoning every year, and other family members can also have poisonous lead in their bloodstream. While some of these poisonings may come from toys that are covered in lead-based paint, other times the source of lead is from in the house itself.

Why is Lead Toxic?

Lead is a type of metal that’s found in the earth’s crust, and has been extensively used in various products – including paint – from the 1920’s up until the late 1970’s, when the toxicity levels of lead and its potential danger to humans became well known. In fact, over half of all homes built in the U.S. between 1940 to 1960 were coated with lead paint. Since then, lead contents started getting phased out of American manufacturing facilities and store shelves, and lead paint itself was even banned by the U.S. government.

However, the presence of lead paint still exists in homes that were painted prior to these products being banned. Years after lead paint stopped selling, many homes still have lead paint covering their walls, and kids who live in these homes are still being exposed to it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 25% of kids today live in homes with lead paint.

There are many reasons why lead paint poses more of a threat to kids than anyone else. For starters, children’s bodies are able to absorb lead a lot faster compared to adults. In addition, their nervous systems are still developing, and as such, they’re more susceptible to a negative reaction to the presence of lead.

Perhaps a more obvious reason why kids are more vulnerable to the presence of lead is that they’re more likely to put all sorts of objects in their mouths and even lick walls, not to mention the fact that they tend to put their dirty hands in their mouths and roll around in environments that are littered in lead-filled dust.

However, the most common way for lead to get into the system is by inhaling it. Lead dust can be generated in all sorts of ways, including opening and closing windows with lead-based frames, and walking on paint chips and crushing them, all of which can send lead dust into the air.

Lead can cause hyperactivity, irritability, dizziness, clumsiness, behavioral issues hearing problems, lower IQ, delayed speech, seizures, anemia, and even coma or death in extreme cases. That’s all because of the harmful effects that lead can have on the nervous system and kidneys.

Pregnant women can also be at risk for lead poisoning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pregnant mothers with previous exposure to lead can release it from their bones and bloodstream during pregnancy and into the bones of the developing baby as it’s forming. As a result, reduced fetal growth and premature birth have been reported.

Why is Lead-Based Paint So Dangerous?

Lead can be anywhere. The problem with lead is that it does not break down naturally and can eventually contaminate drinking water, dust, food, and toys. But the most dangerous source of lead is from paint; namely, from breathing in lead dust or eating paint flakes that come from lead-based paint.

This type of paint can be anywhere, including on interior and exterior walls, doors, trim, and ceilings. The problem arises when the paint starts chipping and flaking off, which is highly possible given the age of this surface coating. The lead-based flakes and chips are easily seen, but it’s a lot more difficult to steer clear of lead-based dust that is nearly invisible to the naked eye and easily inhaled.

Testing for Lead

If your home was built before 1978, you might want to have its surfaces tested, especially if you’re planning on renovating. You don’t want to send lead-based paint airborne after sanding or scraping.

Testing can be done in a few ways. For starters, you can hire a professional service to come into your home and use X-ray fluorescence equipment to detect the presence of lead. You may also send paint chip samples to a laboratory to be tested. Or else, you might choose to go the DIY route and buy a lead paint test kit that uses either sodium sulfide or rhodizonate to determine if the paint in your home is lead-based.

Removing Lead Paint

Having a professional contractor who is experienced and certified in lead removal is your safest bet rather than doing it yourself. While renovations are taking place or lead paint is being removed, consider relocating in the meantime to avoid the risk of inhaling any lead that may become airborne after being tampered with. At the very least, the area being worked on should be entirely sealed off from the rest of the home.

While you’re at it, disconnect the ductwork to avoid spreading dust all over the house. Remove all furniture, food, and toys, and thoroughly clean the construction area regularly while wearing a respirator. Of course, wash your hands often during the cleanup.

The Bottom Line

If your home is old and you’ve noticed certain health issues with anyone in your family, have your home tested for lead. If you detect it, have it removed. Doing so will drastically cut down on any potential hazards that you and your family will be exposed to, not to mention even increase the value of your home!