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July 12, 2012

Exposing the dangers of lead paint

by: Fidelma L. Fitzpatrick

Ahh. . . Smell that? Summer is in the air. You know what that means besides lazier days and afternoon thunder storms? It means that home improvement season is upon us.

After a dark winter and wet spring, summer is the season to break out the sand paper, paintbrushes and ladders. But before your ambitions get away from you, urging to you to tackle a house-painting project, you may want to ask yourself some questions to help protect you and your family from potential dangers.

If you live in a home built before 1978, it is reasonable to assume that your house may be contaminated with lead paint, a known toxin that can lead to lead poisoning. Using lead in paint was not banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) until 1978; therefore, the majority of homes built before then contain lead based paint. Exterior paint, doorframes, trim, painted metal (such as a heater or A/C units) and windows are the most common sites, but lead may also be found on any painted surface in your home.

What’s the big deal if your house falls into the category of most-likely-to-have-lead-paint? The big deal is your health and the health of your children or any children who may visit your home. Lead is a heavy metal that, when absorbed, is stored in the body’s tissues and bones, and can act as a neurotoxin to the brain. It is most harmful to infants, young children, and young adults whose bodies and organs are still growing. When inhaled or ingested even in low levels, it can permanently damage organs such as the brain and kidneys, the central nervous system and blood cells. In extreme cases, lead poisoning has caused convulsions, coma and even death in children.

In the face of this environmental threat, the CDC recently overhauled its recommendations concerning lead paint. Of particular note, the CDC lowered the Blood Lead Level (BLL) threshold for diagnosing lead poisoning in children. This change, the first in 20 years, will help identify and prevent lead poisoning in many more children. Read the CDC’s report on the change.

If you think that your house may have a chance of being contaminated by lead paint, do not attempt to remove the lead paint yourself. The improper removal of paint in a renovation can be harmful as lead can be released in the form of fibers, dust and paint chips. Also, improper disposal of such debris can also result in increased indoor contamination and absorption into the soil surrounding your home. Instead call an EPA-certified and approved Renovation, Repair and Paint (RRP) specialist. Visit www.epa.gov/lead to learn more about the dangers of lead paint and lead paint removal.