Recently having found out that my three year old had higher lead levels was a very scary moment. Having our house tested by the city Health Department made it worse. Every surface in our house from the window sills to the old fashion radiators was covered in lead paint. Even the walls that had been painted over the years had lead paint were the new paint had started cracking. Contacting our landlord proved to be useless. So this is what I learned:
What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a poison that is harmful to your children’s nervous systems. Even low-level lead poisoning can reduce intelligence, motor control, hearing and emotional development. Children with blood levels as low as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood – think one drop in 16 gallons of water – can have health problems. Adults can also have problems when exposed over time but leads effects on young children are worse. Young bodies absorb lead more readily and children are involved in more hand to mouth activities; plus lead tastes sweet. A blood test is the best way to detect lead poisoning since there are no immediate symptoms to alert you to a problem.
What causes lead poisoning?
Lead based paint in the home is the major source of lead poisoning. Lead based paint for interior or exterior residential use was banned in 1978. Therefore, paint hazards are primarily a problem for homes built before 1980. The most likely interior surfaces coated with lead based paint include: stair trim, door trim, crown moldings, baseboards, window sashes, frames and walls both in kitchens and bathrooms.
Actions to take immediately if you suspect a lead problem:
Have your children tested for lead poisoning. This can be done at your doctors office or the local health department.
Test suspected surfaces for lead content. Do it yourself kits are available at hardware stores. Some local health departments also will test for lead. Clean up damaged paint with wet paper towels.
Short term solutions:
Cleaning solutions. To keep dust levels down wash painted surfaces twice a month. Purchase a cleaner specifically recommended for lead paint, or use an automatic dishwasher detergent. Rinse the surface with clear water after washing. HEPA vacuums. Use a high efficiency particulate air filter vacuum to clean up lead dust or debris. Call you local health department to find out the location of the nearest HEPA vacuum available for loan. Painting. Keep painted surfaces in good repair. Intact lead paint is not a danger to a child until it deteriorates or is damaged. Never use power sanders or open flame torches to remove old paint. Clean up debris continually and don’t let children in the work area. While painting has been shown to reduce lead levels it is not a permanent solution.
The only ways to take care of lead based hazards are to remove them or cover them. Never use an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clean up the work area. Use a damp mop or rent a HEPA vacuum. Change your clothes before leaving the work area as a precaution.