Lead Exposure: What You Need to Know

Lead poisoning affects millions of Americans a year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, children under the age of six years old are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Exposure can lead to significant health conditions, including behavioral disorders and lowered IQs. Despite the ban on the usage of lead-based paint in 1978, many American homes still contain harmful chemicals. Here’s what you need to know about lead exposure and how to prevent it:

Breaking Down the Elements

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts deep in the earth’s crust. Exposure to this element can be toxic for humans and animals alike. Humans are exposed to lead in two ways: breathing or drinking. No amount of lead is safe in the body, so taking precautions to ensure lead is not present in your everyday life. However, because lead is easy to find it’s used in a lot of products, including: paint, ceramics, pipes, solders, gasoline, batteries and cosmetics. Since 1980, both state and federal governments have been working to eliminate the use of lead in consumer products. Though a tremendous amount of progress has been made, the element still remains in ways that could be harmful, particularly in homes. Lead-based paint was commonly used on the exterior and interior of homes up in 1978. That means if your home was built before then, it may still contain this dangerous element.

A Chemical Reaction

If you think your home or building contains lead, hire an EPA-certified risk assessment or inspection firm. Professionals will come in to identify if there are any hazardous lead-related chemicals present. Don’t know where to look? Use the EPA’s certified firm locator nearest you. If you happen to be purchasing a new home, be sure to have it checked before you buy–just to be sure. If you rent, reach out to your landlord to get your place tested or repair any unsafe surfaces with peeling or chipping paint.

Renovate the Right Way

A very common way that lead can sneak into your body is when a home or building is being renovated. Paint chips can be small and unnoticeable, so much so that they can sneak into the food you eat or air you breathe with you even noticing. That’s why the EPA enacted the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule (RRP), a law aimed to protect the public from lead-based paint hazards. This rule, which became effective on April 22, 2010, requires workers to be certified and trained in the use of lead-safe work practices and requires any renovations, repairs and painting firms to be EPA-certified. To become an RRP-certified renovator, individuals must take an eight-hour training course offered by the EPA. The RRP outlines three required (and simple) procedures for compliance:

1. Contain the work area

  • Seal off the work area so that lead dust and debris does not escape.
  • Put up warning signs.
  • Cover floors and furniture with heavy-duty plastic and tape.
  • Seal off doors and HVAC system vents to prevent dust from spreading to other parts of the building

2. Minimize dust:

  • Use work practices that minimize lead dust generated during renovation and repair.
  • Use water to mist areas before sanding or scraping.
  • Score paint before separating components.
  • Use prying and pulling methods to remove components instead of breaking them.
  • Do not use open flame burning or torching.
  • Do not use power tools without HEPA vacuum attachments (these are prohibited by the rule because they generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust).

3. Clean up thoroughly:

  • Keep the work area as clean as possible on a daily basis.
  • When the work is completed, clean up the area using special cleaning methods including the use of a HEPA vacuum and wet mopping.

No matter your level of expertise, everyone can do their part in preventing lead exposure. Visit the EPA’s website for more information on testing for lead and the RRP rule and certification, www.epa.gov/lead



Updated: 12/2016