When you know what to look for and take the proper precautions, lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. Unfortunately, thousands of kids are still getting sick.
Lead paint lurks in forty percent of the nation’s homes – about 36 million homes across the U.S.
“Any amount, even the tiniest, tiniest bit on the tip of your finger will have an impact on a child,” said former EPA supervisor Cheryl Turcotte.
Kids under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect physical and mental development. They don’t have to eat or chew lead–based paint chips to be poisoned. Most kids are poisoned when they breathe in or swallow lead dust.
“Especially if you live in a home that’s built before 1978, you probably have older windows, so every time you open those windows and close them, you might not see it, but it’s happening inside those little crevices of the window,” environmental health risk expert Dollis Wright added.
Dangerous amounts of lead dust can also be created when lead–based paint is disturbed during renovation, repair or painting jobs. That’s why federal law requires any contractor who disturbs lead paint to be EPA certified and follow strict work practices to prevent contamination.
“For example, they should be using HEPA filters,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “They should be using plastic sheeting to completely seal off the area. They should also wear protective foot covers, protective clothing. If you see any signs that make you uncomfortable, you should stop the work immediately.”
In a recent sting, Angie’s List called 150 renovation contractors and questioned them about lead–safe practices. Nearly 11 percent offered bad advice and nearly 32 percent admitted they did not have the required EPA lead–safety certification.
“Angie’s List has been a champion of safe lead practices for many, many years and continues to work to raise the awareness about lead paint poisoning,” Hicks added. “Also, we’re denoting on company records, if they’re working on houses before 1978, if they don’t have proper certification.”
If you’re planning a remodeling project, Angie’s List says arm yourself with information and verify your contractor has the proper training.
“Even if you live in a newer house, you should always be concerned about where your children visit,” Hicks said. “Is Grandma’s house built before 1978? Other family members, even a day care, because in those scenarios, you want to be sure that those places are safe as well. Because it takes a small amount of lead for a child to get lead poisoning.”
“There’s no cure for it and so, once you’re poisoned it’s for life,” said Wright.
Only a blood test can confirm lead poisoning. If you have concerns about lead exposure, push your child’s doctor to do an evaluation. Experts say if your house was built before 1978, assume the paint has lead in it unless tests show otherwise.