Lead paint on a home (C) Daniel Friedman Quick Guide to Lead Exposure Hazards On & In buildings

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A Quick Guide to Lead Exposure Hazards Indoors: this article explains simple steps to reduce the hazard of lead exposure in homes. Our page top photo shows lead paint in poor condition on painted wood trim in a home. Paint in this condition is a particular hazard to children but it is also dangerous to home remodelers who may remove or strip lead paint if proper precautions are not taken. See LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE for our full list of environmental hazard identification and remedy related to lead in or on buildings.

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Quick & Simple Guide to Lead Exposure Hazards Indoors

This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. As reported in Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:

Lead: the No. 1 Environmental Threat to Children: In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human services called lead “the number-one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.” The leading source of lead exposure today is old lead-based paint in homes built before 1960, although homes built until 1978 may also contain lead paint.

Other sources include contaminated soil and drinking water that runs through old lead piping. Hobby activities, such as soldering and stained- glass making, can also introduce lead into the home.

Where two painted surfaces abrade, such as door and window frames, lead dust can be released and later ingested by children. High-level exposures leading to acute illness can be created when lead-based paint is removed by sanding, scraping, or open-flame burning.

The soil around old houses can also contain high levels of lead from paint scrapings over the years, and the soil around highways can have high levels from leaded gasoline. Playing in contaminated soil can be a threat to children, and contaminated soil can also be tracked into homes, contributing significantly to indoor levels.

Health Effects of Lead Exposure

Lead test on a serving platter (C) Daniel FriedmanOur photo (left) shows an antique food serving platter that contains high levels of lead. At LEAD TEST KIT for HOME USE we discuss how an item like this can be tested for lead at low cost. Best Practices continues:

Lead affects most systems of the body. Even at low levels, harm to fetuses and young children can be significant. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter can impair mental and physical development, leading to lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems.

Lead is more easily absorbed into the bodies of fetuses, infants, and children, and they are more sensitive to the damaging effects. Also, children often have higher exposures, since they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths.

Acute exposures to high levels of lead generated from remodeling activities can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. At very high levels (above 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood), lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death.

Guide to Reducing Exposure to Lead Hazards Indoors and in Drinking Water

Lead water pipe (C) Daniel FriedmanLead pipes in building water supply system

Our photo (left) shows the characteristic "wipe joint" that can help identify lead water supply piping at a building. See LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS for details about this significant source of lead levels found in some people.

See LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE and for more details on lead in water, also see LEAD in WATER, ACTION LEVELS

Continuing from from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:

Lead Paint On Buildings

Since lead paint is the leading cause of exposure, preventive measures focus on keeping paint in good condition and cleaning up any lead- containing dust before children are exposed.

In older homes with lead paint, experts recommend mopping floors and wiping window ledges and other smooth flat areas with damp cloths frequently, keeping children away from areas where paint is chipped, peeling, or chalking and preventing children from chewing on window sills and other painted areas.

Also, ensure that toys are cleaned frequently and hands are washed before meals. If the paint is in poor condition, it should be removed by a licensed lead- abatement professional. Recommendations include:

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand, scrape, or burn off paint that may contain lead.
  • If the paint needs to be removed, hire a licensed professional with training in lead abatement.
  • Do not bring contaminated soil or lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby exposes you to lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home. Demolition and work along roads and highways are examples.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron. A child who eats enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Water supply piping connection: copper to galvanize (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Copper pipe joints soldered with high-lead solder: Lead in solder used to join copper water supply piping in older buildings can present a lead poisoning health hazard that varies by the extent of lead solder used, how the joints were soldered (did the installer push blobs of solder into the pipe interior), and the chemistry of water flowing through the pipes. Lead hazards associated with water piping are discussed in detail at LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS.

    Our photo (left) shows how a homeowner coped with a leak at a soldered (sweated) copper water supply pipe elbow that was difficult to reach for repair.

    Watch out: OPINION: because soldering copper pipe fittings when using newer low-lead-content solder requires higher heat than the old high-lead solder, newer soldered joints can be messier-looking. But you should not rely on the physical appearance of a copper pipe connection to guess at its lead content, as the workmanship of individual plumbers varies widely, and a joint that was wiped clean during soldering looks neat and clean regardless of which solder type was used.

    Test your copper plumbing for lead? To know if your copper pipe connections were soldered using a high-lead-content solder you can use an inexpensive lead test widely available online and at building suppliers. You can also test building water itself for lead content, but as we have shown at LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS, it's easy to conduct water test sample collection so as to skew results to show very high or very low lead content. If the piping in your home is old it would be prudent to assume that there is lead used in its connectors even without testing many of them. Various sources have pointed out that

    In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%. Older construction may still have plumbing that has the potential to contribute lead to drinking water. [29]

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