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Should I Worry About Lead Paint?

lead-based paint on windows

In days of yore, the world was a consummate lead consumption enthusiast. The heavy metal was used to manufacture everything from jewelry and toys to pipes and paint. Lead levels have been declining over the last 30 years, but lead-based paint is more common than you might think. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that about 35% of American homes have lead-based coatings today. The EPA warns that these paints are easily inhaled or ingested when they erode.

Lead exposure goes straight to the nervous system, causing neurological damage and severe pain. With enough exposure, this toxic substance will ultimately take your life. Lead is a cumulative toxin that the body distributes to multiple organs and bone. Extensive contamination presents itself through gradually-worsening medical symptoms.

Can lead paint affect my health?

Lead can only affect your health if it’s chipping, crushed, or flaking. Household lead dust usually emerges when painted surfaces deteriorate, so it’s crucial to keep your lead-based walls and windows in excellent condition. If you’re planning a renovation, your lead-based paint will soon become a serious hazard, so always use a contractor who’s certified as lead-safe. These professionals are trained to control lead exposure through regulation site isolation, airlocks, HEPTA vacuum attachments, and safe chemical strippers. Even so, it’s best to perform a deep clean after renovation and stay away from any DIY projects that can generate lead dust. If you’re planning some maintenance around lead-coated walls, seal off your work area with plastic before you begin. Wear a Tyvek suit and half-mask respirator.

Is it safe to live in a house with lead paint?

If your painted surfaces are as good as new, their lead contents are unlikely to harm you. Lead paint was banned in 1978, but the odds of your home having a lead-coated surface are higher than you might think. To make matters worse, previous renovations may have left traces of heavy metals in your varnishes and wallpapers. An undisturbed lead surface should be safe, but if the offending coating is frequently bumped, your home will become a hazard. Lead powder quickly spreads to other surfaces, so you can’t be sure of your safety until you’ve had an inspection.

Is lead safe to touch?

Lead can enter the system via the skin. Handling the substance before touching your eyes or mouth will also lead to additional exposure. While lead is at its most harmful in dust form, rubbing against a lead-based coating can infest your home with toxins that are hazardous to the touch. Ingestion is particularly dangerous to children, who tend to engage in hand-to-mouth behaviors. Once lead has attacked the central nervous system, it can cause seizures, coma, and irreversible brain damage, so treat all lead coatings as hazardous.

How do you tell if paint has lead in it?

If your home was built before the Eighties, the odds are excellent that you have lead in your paint, but look for visual clues as well. Old lead paint cracks and wrinkles in a distinctive way, leaving an alligator-like surface. It also tends to produce a chalky residue that degenerates into dust. If you spot these symptoms, a professional inspection is on the cards. A licensed contractor will test your home for traces of lead, then perform a laboratory analysis. You can also submit a sample for testing yourself, but it’s safest to let professionals perform an assessment on your behalf.

What to do if your home has lead paint

It’s relatively safe to treat your lead paint-coated surfaces with an encapsulant membrane. An excellent primer will mitigate your risk for a while, preventing fine powder from leaching into your carpets and furniture. This is often safer than removing the offending paint because disturbing a lead-based surface can generate toxic lead dust. A noninvasive approach sometimes pips a kneejerk reaction, but the only permanent way to eliminate lead from your home is to remove the coating all the way down to its base layers. If you’re pregnant or have children younger than four, a more lasting approach is called for.

If you decide not to remove your lead paint, you’ll need to adopt a stringent cleaning routine. Remove chips and dust the moment you see them and keep your windowsills free of dust. Wash children’s toys often and reduce exposure risk with regular mopping. It’s also advisable to perform a blood lead level to find out if your family needs medical treatment.

Lead exposure affects almost every organ in the body, and many of those effects are irreversible. Your home is supposed to be your safe harbor from a dangerous world. The wrong coating can turn it into the most hazardous place you ever visit. Don’t let lead steal your sense of safety.

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