What to Know About Lead Based Paint

What to Know About Lead Based Paint

Lead poisoning has become a more common occurrence across the nation, especially in children under 6.bigstock--130123634 The EPA has found that a main source of this poisoning is lead based paint. When young children are exposed to lead-based paint, it can lead to brain damage, nervous disorders that lead to behavioral problems, and a lower IQ. Adults can also be harmed through exposure and can experience numerous health effects that range from kidney disorders to reproductive disorders. It doesn’t matter the age of a person–it has been proven that exposure to lead based paint is dangerous.

The dangers of lead paint aren’t anything new. In fact, an effort to limit the use of lead started back in the 16th-century. Mined for thousands of years, exposure to it has caused severe health issues for just as long.

In the early 1950's, the paint industry began reducing lead content, although many paints still contained harmful amounts of lead. Surprisingly, popular for its durability and opacity, lead paint products were used in millions of homes across the US until the 1970’s. Concerns for the health and environmental risks of lead exposure became more widely known and it was determined that there is no safe threshold for exposure to lead. Congress banned the use of lead-based paints in residential buildings in 1971. By 1978, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency set further restrictions, banning its use.

If your home was built before 1978, it’s likely that there’s lead-based paint on the walls unless it has been professionally de-leaded. Even if your home has been painted more recently, it’s possible there are layers of lead-based paint hiding underneath newer coats of paint. And, unfortunately, simply painting over it won’t make it, or its harmful effects, disappear.

Not all houses built before 1978 have lead-based paint, but the older your house is, the greater the likelihood is that it contains lead paint somewhere inside or out.

The main question most homeowners ask when they begin to learn about the dangers of lead paint is obvious: How do you know if you have it? There’s no way to tell by simply looking at your painted surfaces. You'll also want to determine if there is lead-based paint in your house if you intend to sell or rent it. As the seller or landlord, you have a legal obligation to provide potential buyers or renters any information you have about the lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in your home.


When unsure if there is lead paint in the home, or in a specific area of the home, there are companies that will come out and test for lead. There are also lead testing kits that are available, easy to use and that will give you immediate results.

There are three testing methods used to determine whether lead paint is present in your home. Which one you have done depends on your reason for testing.

An inspection identifies whether there is lead-based paint on any surface inside or outside your home. It’s particularly useful if you’re planning a renovation, are going to paint, or are having paint removed.
An inspector will inventory all painted surfaces, including those covered by wall paper, both inside and outside the house.  Samples are then tested, either on site with a portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF), or collected and sent to a laboratory recognized by the EPA’s National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program. The XRF measures lead in the paint without damaging it, and provides a fast method for classifying painted surfaces as either positive (lead) or negative (no lead). But if the results aren’t conclusive, samples of one-to four- square inches of paint are removed and sent for lab analysis.

The report that follows the inspection will identify which surfaces have lead-based paint. The report does not indicate the condition of the paint or whether it poses a health risk.

A risk assessment locates deteriorating paint in your home and evaluates the extent and cause of the deterioration. Then the deteriorated paint is tested, as well as paint on surfaces where it looks like a child has been biting, mouthing, or licking. Painted surfaces in good condition are not tested. A risk assessment also tests household dust as well as soil in outside play areas and around the foundation. Dust samples are usually collected from floors and windows by using a wet wipe, then sent with the paint samples for lab analysis.

A risk assessment report will tell you where lead hazards exist in your house and indicate ways to correct them. Because not all surfaces are tested, a negative report doesn’t necessarily mean there's no lead-based paint in the house. Some homeowners choose to have a paint inspection and a risk assessment.

A hazard screen is similar to a risk assessment, but not as extensive. It's usually done for homes with a lower risk of lead hazard. An assessor inspects areas of deterioration and collects two samples of dust, one from floors and one from windows. Soil samples are usually not collected unless there's evidence of paint chips in the soil. A hazard screen identifies the probability of there being a risk present. If there is a probability, the report will recommend a risk assessment.

The EPA strongly recommends that lead tests be done by either a certified lead inspector or a certified lead risk assessor. There are also home lead test kits available that use chemicals that change color to indicate the presence of lead. They’re less expensive than a full inspection or assessment, their accuracy is questionable, and they don’t provide the detail that an inspection or a risk assessment gives. California currently does not accept the home lead test kits as an adequate means of lead determination. You may also collect your own paint samples and send them to a lab for analysis. However, the samples you collect may not be as complete as the samples a certified professional would gather.

If tests show lead paint inside or outside your home, there are temporary measures you can take to reduce or control the hazard.

  • Immediately clean up any paint chips you find.
  • Keep play areas clean.
  • Don’t let children chew on painted surfaces.
  • Clean dust off of window sills and other surfaces on a regular basis, using a sponge, mop, or paper towel with warm water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse mop heads and sponges after cleaning.
  • Remove your shoes when you enter your home so you don’t track in lead from the soil.
  • If you rent, tell the landlord about the results of the test and the fact that there is peeling or chipping paint.bigstock-Old-House-932250


Federal law now requires workers who disturb pre-1978 painted surfaces to be trained in lead safety and firms to be EPA certified.

If you decide to hire a contractor to do lead hazard reduction work or painting, we recommend that you use a contractor that has been trained in lead safe work practices and be pro-active in monitoring their work.

Again, painting over lead paint is not recommended. There is no way to “seal” lead paint in to make it safe. Especially if lead paint is chipped, flaking, or otherwise exposed, you may already be experiencing low levels of lead exposure. Your best course of action is to proceed with having the lead paint safely and properly removed. If you suspect that lead paint is present in your home, it’s essential that you respond in the right way. Grabbing a paint scraper and begin removing paint yourself can actually increase the health hazard, causing particles to get into the air and even into your carpeting, furniture, and ventilation system. If you want to remove lead paint safely, hire lead paint certified painters. These are professionals who have been specifically trained to identify and properly remove lead paint from older homes. Trained and licensed by the EPA, they follow a specific protocol before, during, and after the paint is removed, and have the necessary equipment to ensure that the rest of your home and the environment are protected, including HEPA filtered sanders, vacuums, and negative air machines.

Before hiring a professional, get clear estimates from lead paint certified contractors and be sure all lead-specific paperwork is in order before beginning work.
While proper lead abatement is a specific and sometimes time-consuming process, once removed from your home, you and your family will breathe much easier knowing you have mitigated any health risks.
Take a little time and check with the EPA and the local health department regarding lead paint, it’s hazards and under what conditions it is hazardous and proper removal procedures is wise.

Quick Guide to Lead Regulations That May Affect You

Over the last decade a number of federal and state laws and regulations have been enacted. If you are a property owner, contractor, painter or maintenance worker, there are some particular regulations, described below, that are important to become familiar with in order to avoid fines and penalties. The rules were enacted to prevent lead exposures to occupants, neighbors and workers. Some general rules of thumb to help you comply with lead regulations are:

  • Assume that paint on a home built before 1978 is lead-based.
  • Maintain your property and keep the paint intact.
  • If you are painting or remodeling, use lead-safe work practices including proper containment.
  • A lead “certification” is required for any and all renovation activities that disturb more than 6 square feet of interior or 20 square feet of exterior lead paint in residential or child-occupied facilities built before 1978.
  • When using a contractor check to see if he is certified for lead paint removal.
Read EPA's regulations on residential property renovation at 40 CFR 745, Subpart E.

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Complying Lead Laws and Regulations from EPA