We’ve all heard about the dangers of lead paint, but is it really something we need to worry about? For most of us, the short answer is probably not. However, lead paint can pose a signiﬁcant health risk, so it’s important to understand when it can potentially cause a problem.
Lead paint was used in homes built before 1978, when the federal government banned its use. Some states outlawed it even earlier, but all homes constructed prior to 1978 could potentially contain lead paint. It’s generally not a problem unless older layers of paint are chipping, flaking, or sanded into dust. It can be exposed through repairs, remodeling, or extensive wear and tear.
Exposure to lead paint can cause serious health issues, especially in young children and pregnant women. High levels of lead can cause lead poisoning or brain or nervous system damage. In children, even low levels may cause behavioral problems or learning disabilities.
Because of their tendency to chew everything in sight, toddlers are most likely to ingest lead paint, especially if it is flaking or peeling oﬀ the walls in an older home. Children’s bodies absorb lead much more easily than adults; and even low levels of lead can harm a pregnant woman’s developing baby.
If you suspect lead paint in your home, you can send a paint sample to a certiﬁed laboratory, or use a home lead test kit. They are readily available at home improvement stores.
When lead paint is present in a home, leaving it undisturbed is sometimes better than removing it, as long as the paint is not chipping or disintegrating. The removal process is labor intensive and should ideally be done by a professional. If the surface is in good condition, you can minimize the chance of lead exposure by covering it with wallpaper, paneling, or a fresh coat of new paint.