If you are buying, living in, or renovating a home or apartment built before 1978, you and your family may be exposed to lead-based paint. About 29 million homes in the U.S. have deteriorated lead-based paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. And the older your home is, the more likely it is to contain lead-based products. For example, 87% of homes built before 1940 used lead-based paint, and 24% of homes built between 1960 and 1978 have this problem. Close to 18% of houses in California come with lead risk.
Lead-based paint doesn’t discriminate either. Many types of homes contain it, from private houses to public housing to apartments. And it’s found in all settings, from urban to rural communities. Though lawmakers outlawed lead-based paint in 1978, it’s safest to assume that contractors used some lead-based paint in all homes built before then.
Why Is Identifying Lead-Based Paint in Your Home Important?
Lead is a neurotoxic metal known to cause many health problems, especially in young children. Repeated exposure to lead can cause lead poisoning. When a child’s body absorbs lead, it can damage the brain and other organs, like kidneys, nerves, and blood. Lead may also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures, and in extreme cases, coma and death.
According to the CDC, an estimated 535,000 U.S. children ages between the ages of one and five years have blood lead levels known to damage health. Even low levels of lead in the blood may cause permanent cognitive, neurological, emotional, and behavioral problems. Lead exposure can also harm babies before they are born. For pregnant women, exposure to lead carries increased risks of miscarriage, low birth weight, and impaired neurodevelopment.
Symptoms of lead poisoning in children are multifaceted and may not always be obvious. Children with lead poisoning often don’t show symptoms until they accumulate dangerous amounts in their bloodstream. Those symptoms can include:
- Developmental delay,
- Learning difficulties,
- Loss of appetite,
- Weight loss,
- Sluggishness and fatigue,
- Abdominal pain,
- Hearing loss,
- Seizures, and
- Eating things that aren’t food, like paint chips (also called ‘pica’).
Lead poisoning symptoms may also present like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.
Identifying Lead Paint in Your Home
About 29 million homes in the U.S. contain deteriorated lead-based paint. More than 2.6 million are homes to one or more young children. If your home is one of the millions in the United States containing lead-based paint, identifying it can protect your family’s health and safety. While there’s no way to know for sure whether paint is lead-based without an inspection, here are four helpful steps to get you started.
Know When Your House Was Built
The United States banned lead-based paint sales for residential use in 1978. If your home was built before 1978, you should assume it contains lead-based paint. But if your home was built from 1978 to the 90s, it’s still smart to assume builders might have used lead-based paint, as some contractors and painters stored and used lead-based paint throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. If you’re unsure when your home was built, consider asking the previous owner, seller, or landlord.
Look for Signs of Damaged Paint
Damaged lead-based paint produces lead-contaminated dust and paint chips that may be accidentally inhaled or ingested. Signs of damaged lead-based paint include peeling, chipping, dampness, bubbling, and “scaling,” which occurs when the paint starts to crack and wrinkle, creating a pattern that resembles reptilian scales. Another sign is “chalking,” when lead-based paint produces a chalky residue as it rubs off or deteriorates.
Check for Sub-Layers of Paint
Another way to tell if your home contains lead-based paint is to look for multiple paint layers, especially in pre-1978 buildings. Layers may be especially apparent where paint is damaged or chipping. In this case, you might find sub-layers of paint underneath or uneven layers painted on top. These are coatings that have been painted over during repairs or renovation. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to look inside closets, around baseboards, behind appliances, and in other areas that people may not have bothered to cover to see how the layers vary.
Purchase a Home Lead Test Kit
If you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, you can purchase an at-home lead test kit. Lead test kits use special chemicals that change color to indicate the presence of lead paint. Just remember that home test kits are not as accurate or reliable as a professional lead-based paint inspection. As a result, you should never rely on a home test kit to categorically confirm or rule out the presence of lead-based paint. Home test kits also detect lead only in a home’s outermost paint layers. If your home has multiple layers, lead-based paint covered up by newer paint is not detectable.
These four steps can help you protect against lead-based paint in your home. However, there is no way to know for sure if your home contains lead-based paint without a certified lead inspection. A certified lead-based paint inspector or risk assessor can inspect to determine whether your home has lead-based paint and where it is located. The inspector can also explain how to address any hazards.
If a lead paint inspector finds lead paint in your home, you might be able to pursue legal action. The easiest way to do this is to hire an experienced lead paint law firm. One of the most notable lead paint law firms in California is Riley | Ersoff LLP. Pursuing legal action can help you and your family get the justice and compensation they deserve.