Lead-based paint: What’s the big deal?

Liza King
Liza King
Published on February 21, 2020

Every year, thousands of American children suffer from lead poisoning. In fact, 1.2 million children have lead poisoning, according to researchers at the Public Health Institute.

Surprised? Aside from sporadic recalls of toys that are found to contain lead, we don’t hear much about the dangers of lead that still exist in 2019.

Dust from lead-based paint, whether in the form of chips from peeling paint or “on surfaces that rub together, such as windows and doors” can pose health hazards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So, federal law requires that homebuyers must be warned that homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint on the walls.  

A little history on lead-based paint

From the 1920s until 1978, lead, which is found naturally in the earth’s crust, was used in a wide range of American products, such as pottery, gasoline, plumbing supplies and even women’s cosmetics.

As the toxic effects of this heavy metal became apparent, the U.S. government banned its use in paint. That was in 1978, so homes built after that are free of lead-based paint.

About 75 percent of homes built before that, however, contain at least some lead-based paint, with those built before 1950 containing the most.

Why you should be concerned

Because children’s bodies are growing, they absorb lead more readily than do adults. Their nervous systems also react more strongly to lead than ours do.

The EPA says that children suffering from lead poisoning show:

  • Lower IQ
  • Behavioral or learning problems
  • Delayed growth
  • Anemia
  • Hearing problems

Does your current home have lead-based paint?

Not all homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. If you are concerned that yours might, purchase a DIY lead-testing kit. ConsumerReports.org offers advice on which tests are best and a walk-through of how to correctly use them.

If you prefer to have a certified inspector check your home, use the EPA’s online search function to find one near you.

If the tests are positive for lead, don’t freak out. If the paint isn’t peeling or otherwise rubbing off and creating dust, you may choose to leave it alone. Removing lead paint requires a professional and the services tend to be expensive.

If you choose to leave the paint in place, inspect the surfaces at least twice a year. Look for paint chips and dust on the floors and window sills.

Other tips include:

  • Repair water damage immediately.
  • Mop floors at least once a week with warm water and TSP. Experts recommend that you wear safety equipment during the job and use two buckets (one for the TSP solution and one with clear water for rinsing).
  • Wipe window sills weekly.

Home seller requirements

All home sellers with homes built before 1978 must provide potential buyers a pamphlet with information about the hazards of lead-based paint. You can view the EPA-authored pamphlet at epa.gov.

The seller must also divulge any information about the paint in the home – whether it contains lead. This is typically accomplished with a lead-based paint disclosure form.

Finally, buyers of homes built before 1978 must, by law, be given 10 days to inspect the paint in the home. The buyer can waive the inspection and the 10-day period is negotiable.

If you have any concerns regarding lead-based paint in a home, we urge you to hire a certified inspector before committing to buying the home.

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