Living Lead-Safe in an Older Home
Is the paint in your home a risk to your children?
July 1, 2010
Is the paint in your home a risk to your children? Each year, nearly 120 of Maine’s children are poisoned by lead, according the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MeCDC). Many parents are unaware of the lead paint danger that may be lurking in their home. That’s why state and local health organizations, including Healthy Community Coalition (HCC), are encouraging parents to find out the year their home was built. This information will help them make informed decisions about protecting their children from lead poisoning.
Lead dust is the most common way children are poisoned by lead. In Maine, lead paint is generally found in homes built before 1978. And, if a child lives in a home built before 1950 the child is up to three times more likely to be exposed to lead through the paint in the home. If a home contains lead paint, normal wear and tear or home renovations may produce lead dust.
“As leaded paint gets old and breaks down, lead dust can build up on window sills and floors. Lead dust also comes from home repairs and renovations—these activities disturb lead paint and can make lead dust,” explains Nicole Ditata, HCC program coordinator. Lead dust remains in homes for a long time, collecting on surfaces where children put their hands and play with toys. Children, especially those under age three, often put their hands and toys in their mouths. This makes it very easy for lead dust to get into and damage children’s growing bodies. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause learning disabilities, behavior problems, hearing damage, language or speech delays and lower intelligence.
“We are asking parents to find out the year their house was built.” said Ditata. Parents can find out how old their house is by calling their town office. Parents who live in rental housing can ask their landlord or call the town office. Parents who are unsure about the age of their home or who want to find the exact locations of lead paint can test their home. The MeCDC recommends the following three testing methods.
• Home Test Kits: For sale at hardware stores, these tests only tell you if there is lead on the surface. They will not tell you if there is lead paint covered by a layer of non-leaded paint. Home test kits are not expensive and are useful for testing painted wood that is already chipped or damaged.
• Lead Dust Wipes: This method can test for lead dust on floors and window sills. Lead dust test kits are available from the State Health and Environmental Testing Lab at 287-8014.
• Hire a Lead Expert: Special equipment allows lead experts to measure lead in paint, even if it is covered by layers of newer non-leaded paint. Get a list of lead testing experts by calling 287-2651 or visiting www.maine.gov/healthyhomes. Click on the "homeowners" link.
Because you can assume that your home has lead paint if it was built before 1950, you need to do certain things to live safely with lead paint. Some suggestions to keep children safe from lead at home:
1. Regularly clean floors, windowsills and tabletops with a wet mop or cloth.
2. Always wash children’s hands after play and before meals, naps and bedtime.
3. Frequently wipe down toys, clean stuffed animals and wash bottles or pacifiers.
4. Routinely check painted windows, doors and floors for peeling or chipping paint.
5. Ask your child’s doctor about a blood lead test.
6. Learn how to renovate, repair and paint safely before beginning any home improvement projects.
The MeCDC has tip sheets for parents and homeowners about lead testing and cleaning up lead in your home at www.maine.gov/healthyhomes.
The bottom line for parents, says Ditata, “If your home was built before 1950, assume there is lead in it. Keep it clean and maintain the paint. If you are planning renovations on any house built before 1978, either hire a certified contractor, or if you are going to do it yourself, test it for lead. Once you know if you have lead in your home, you can make smart decisions about cleaning, home improvements, and keeping your children safe.”
Healthy Community Coalition is an affiliate of Franklin Community Health Network. For more information contact Nicole Ditata at 779-2932.
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