The Dangers of Lead-Based Paint

Important Health Facts about Lead Paint

It’s well-known that lead paint is bad for your health, but for most people that’s as much as they know. There’s not a lot of understanding about why it’s bad, what it does to the body, how people come into contact with it, and how you can reduce your risk of lead paint exposure. We’ll cover all those topics and more in this article to help you understand the risks of lead paint.

(If your property may be at risk, please see our sister article “Lead Paint Testing: Inspections and Risk Assessments” for information on how to get your property tested for lead paint risk.) A lead paint inspection is needed for property build prior to 1978.

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Why is lead-based paint considered dangerous?

Lead is extremely toxic and can cause severe health and cognitive problems in any person, but is most harmful to children, pregnant women, and unborn babies. The health effects of lead paint on children are very severe. It can cause mental and cognitive disabilities that are irreversible, keeping a child at the same cognitive level their entire life as from the time they were exposed. In adults expecting or actively trying to have children, their exposure to lead paint can be transmitted to the child and it can also potentially limit the success of childbirth. In adults without children, health effects can cause high blood pressure, loss of memory, cognitive decline, tingling of extremities, lack of sleep, depression, abdominal pain, and nausea.

What is involved in a lead paint risk assessment

Our environmental scientists will come on site and conduct a series of inspections and take samples to be analyzed by a lab. This starts with a visual inspection of the property indoors and out, identifying all potential lead hazards and areas of concern. Then, we take samples of deteriorated paint and collect dust wipe sampling. The concept is that friction and impact surfaces containing lead paint are constantly emitting lead dust, and/or lead contaminated soils tracted in from outdoors would spread lead throughout the home. We also conduct soil sampling for lead and, if necessary, we’ll do water sampling, as well.

After the results of the lab analysis come in, our scientists will compile all of the data from the analysis and the visual inspection and create a report that details the level of risk and a plan of action, which will likely include abatement, encapsulation, or preventative maintenance. We then take on the role of customer advocate and consultant, helping to direct the abatement contractor and monitoring their work to ensure that the lead paint risk is properly handled.

What are the risks of lead paint?

Lead paint can cause health problems when it’s ingested into the body, either orally or breathed in. This means that the greatest risks for lead paint are when it’s chipping or deteriorating and can either get onto surfaces as chips or as dust, which could also then be breathed in. Lead doesn’t leave the body, so it can accumulate over time, increasing the risk of health effects. When lead levels are high in the blood, the body confuses lead with calcium and will absorb into the bones. Stress, trauma, or illness can release lead from the bones back into the blood stream later in life causing a cycle of health affects throughout ones life.

Who is at risk of lead paint poisoning?

Anyone who ingests lead paint or breathes it in is at risk, but the vulnerability is much higher in children as they are most at risk to have permanent development deficiencies or delays and most likely to have constant exposure. Lead paint particles can mix with soil dust and therefore anyone can breathe it in, but children are also the most at risk to come into contact with lead paint because they’re often playing on floors or other surfaces that could be contaminated and they often put their hands and objects into their mouths. Lead paint is sweet tasting and kids are known to chew on it. Expecting mothers also need to be extremely careful around suspected lead paint sources.

What is a lead paint clearance inspection? Why do I need one?

If there is a child with elevated levels of lead in their blood, the Ohio Department of Health will conduct a combined inspection and risk assessment of the suspected properties where the child spends time. The state health department then develops a hazard control order and requires clearance inspection and testing from a third party. The clearance testing determines whether the risk of lead exposure has been appropriately eliminated. The scope of the lead clearance is dependent on the scope of the hazard control order.

Can you get lead poisoning from touching lead paint?

No, touching lead paint is not dangerous, but breathing it in or swallowing it is. Lead can accumulate in the body, so continued exposure can add up and pose serious issues. When lead paint deteriorates it often ends up in dust that can be breathed in or that coats objects or surfaces that will eventually reach the mouth — the most common example is a child playing on a floor with an imperceptible coating of lead paint dust and the child puts their hands into their mouths. Impact surfaces (stair treads) and friction surfaces (window and door thresholds) that have lead-based paint emit lead dust constantly. Lead dust is extremely sticky and difficult to clean. Additionally, Lead paint on the exterior of the home can significantly contaminate soil and has the potential to contaminate all portions of the property through wind transport and people tracking mud into the home.

How does lead paint contaminate our homes?

Friction and impact surfaces painted with lead frequently emit lead dust when opened/closed (windows and doors) or stepped on, slammed or kicked (stairs, walls without door stops). Lead dust is sticky and hard to clean using regular house cleaning approaches. Moreover, if the exterior paint has impacted soil, that soil dust could be significantly adding lead to dust in the home. That is why it’s required to also conduct 2 soils samples in a risk assessment (one in the bare-ground play areas and one along bare ground foundation drip lines). If there is no bare ground a soil sample is not required. If surfaces painted with lead are not deteriorating or they’re completely sealed by another layer, they may not be a hazard until they are disturbed.

How dangerous is lead paint in old houses?

Lead paint is harmful if it is breathed in or swallowed, so it’s most dangerous when it’s flaking or chipping and mixing with dust. The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint, so houses built before 1978 pose a much higher risk of contamination. Anytime that renovation or demolition is planned, even small projects, there is the risk of disturbing the lead paint and sending it into the air to mix with dust or dropping to the ground to mix with soil or simply laying on the floor where it may be accidentally swallowed by children putting their hands or objects into their mouths.

Should I get a lead inspection or lead risk assessment?

If you live in or are considering buying a home that was built prior to 1978, and especially if children are present, then yes, a lead risk assessment will identify if your family is at risk. For more lead paint inspections and risk assessment, check out our companion article “Lead Paint Testing: Inspections and Risk Assessments.”

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