Lead Testing

1. What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that interferes with the development and functioning of almost all body organs, particularly the kidneys, red blood cells, and central nervous system. In young children, lead retards the development of the central nervous system and brain.

2. What causes Lead Poisoning?

In Children — Childhood lead poisoning is the number one environmental health risk for children today. In the United States, more than three million children age six and younger — that’s one out of six — already have toxic levels of lead in their bodies.
In Adults — Most adults are poisoned at work. There are laws that seek to prevent this, but many are not yet widely enforced. Any employee who may be exposed to lead in any amount, should have personal air sampling done.

3. How big is the problem?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood lead poisoning is the number one environmental health risk facing children in industrialized countries today. In the United States, more than three million children age six and younger– that’s one out of every six children — already have toxic levels of lead in their bodies.

4. How much lead does it take to get lead poisoning?

The amount is incredibly small: 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood.
If you’re metrically challenged, here’s a way to visualize what that means.
o    A deciliter is about 1/2 of a cup.
o    A packet of sweetener (either the pink or blue stuff) is one gram.
o    There are one million micrograms in a gram.
o    So, divide the stuff from one packet into one million piles. (Pretend!)
o    Now, discard 999,990 of those “piles.”
o    Take the remaining 10 piles and mix them into half a cup of liquid.
Voila! You now have a representation of how much lead it takes to poison a child.

5. How does lead affect the body?

Children’s Reactions to Lead (micrograms per deci-liter)
Blood Lead Level Possible Health Effects
10 ug/dL Slight loss in IQ; hearing and growth problems
20 ug/dL Moderate loss in IQ; hyperactivity; poor attention span; difficulty learning; language and speech problems; slower reflexes
40 ug dL Poor bone and muscle development; clumsiness; lack of coordination; early anemia; fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen and iron; tiredness; drowsiness
50 ug/dL Stomach aches and cramps; anemia; destruction of red blood cells; brain damage
100 ug/dL
& above
Swelling of the brain; seizures; coma; death
Adult Reactions to Lead (micrograms per deci-liter)
Blood Lead Level Possible Health Effects
15 ug/dL Increase in blood pressure; harmful effects on fetus; joint and muscle aches
25 ug/dL Reproductive problems
40 ug/dL Kidney damage; damage to blood formation
60 ug/dL Anemia; nerve damage; constipation; stomach pains; irritability and fatigue; memory and concentration problems; clumsiness; drowsiness and sleep problems
80 ug/dL
& above
Blue line on gums; uncontrollable shaking of hands; wrist and foot drop; hallucinations; brain damage; coma; death
Source: ATSDR; California Health Dept 1993

6. Why is remodeling an older home considered such a big risk?

If proper precautions are not taken, remodeling or renovating an older home (pre-1978) can generate a very large amount of dust. Even small jobs done during routine maintenance — like painting — can generate lead dust.

7. Do many homes have lead-based paint hazards?

It is estimated that at least 19 million homes have lead-based paint hazards, of which at least 4 million have young children under age the age of six living in them. (HUD 1990; EPA 1995).

8. What do I have to do to comply with the Federal disclosure laws?

Each time a home or apartment built before 1978 (the year lead was banned in residential paint) is sold or rented, owners are required to give sellers or renters a copy of the EPA pamphlet Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home and disclose any known lead or lead hazards on the property. The pamphlet is free and can be ordered by calling 1-800-LEAD-FYI. Mobile homes are included.

9. If there’s lead in my home, do I have to remove it?

Usually, no.  In most states there are no laws that require you to remove lead paint. (Check with state and local authorities to see if there are more stringent laws where you live.)  But, you do have to contend with it.  That is “manage it” using approved, lead safe work practices when performing maintenance or repairs.

10. What’s the difference between lead-safe and lead-free?

lead-free home or apartment has no lead (or lead hazards). A lead-safe home or apartment has no lead hazards, but it may still contain lead paint.

11. Are there inexpensive things I can do to protect my family?
Absolutely. Most of us grew up in areas that had earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes. We learned what to do to protect ourselves and “manage” the risk. Lead is no different.  You can learn where to look for lead in your home and how to minimize the risk. A simple first step is to call 800-LEAD-FYI to order the pamphlet“Reduce Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home.”

12 What is the likelihood of lead contamination in my drinking water?

Since June,1986 the SAFE DRINKING WATER ACT required the use of lead-free pipe, solder and flux in the installation or repair of plumbing systems connected to public water systems. Prior to that time, most solder contained about 50% lead. The law gave states until 1988 to enforce the new limitations. However, there is evidence that some plumbers continued to use lead solder for some time.
According to the EPA, chances of lead in your drinking water are likely to be highest if: your home has faucets or fittings made of brass, or your home or water system has lead pipes, or your home has lead pipes, or copper pipes with lead solder, AND
o    the home is less than 5 years old, or
o    you have naturally soft water, or
o    water often sits in the pipes for several hours.

13 Can I use a do-it-yourself testing kit?

You can, but you should know that HUD and EPA do not permit the use of chemical spot test kits as an official evaluation method. (Evaluations must be performed by EPA certified and state licensed lead inspectors and risk assessors.) The EPA says these kits may give unreliable results. One of the reasons is that lead paint is usually buried under layers of newer non-lead paint. The do-it-yourself testing kits often are unable to measure deeply buried paint layers. However, the kits are a good way to test pottery, toys and other household items for lead.

14 Will having a blood lead test tell me if I was exposed to lead as a child?

Lead stays in the blood about 3 weeks. Most is excreted and the rest goes into the bones. So, a blood test will only show recent exposure.

15. What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment, concentrates on lead hazards. This is usually what most people are interested in: is my house safe? A risk assessor takes dust and soil samples and sends them to an accredited laboratory. If lead hazards are found, the risk assessment report includes a prioritized plan, based on your budget, that tells you how to remove or manage the hazards.

16. What’s the difference between a lead inspection and a risk assessment?

A lead inspection tests every surface inside and outside your home to see if there’s lead paint and where it’s located. This is important information if you plan to renovate or do repairs that might disturb painted surfaces. (Lead paint under layers of newer non-lead paint is usually not a hazard unless it is disturbed.)  A lead inspection does not tell you if the paint is a hazard, it simply tells you where it is.
You should have a lead inspection if you plan to renovate, or plan to remove lead paint (to make the property lead-free), or if a property will be demolished.

17. What is XRF Testing?

XRF stands for x-ray fluorescence. An XRF is a portable x-ray machine that is frequently used by lead inspectors. It can see through a surface and tell if lead paint is underneath.
Another way is to take paint chip samples and send them to a laboratory. The problem, of course, is that doing so leaves holes in the walls. The other problem is cost. Analysis of one sample usually costs about $20. Because there may be hundreds of samples taken in a house, the cumulative cost can be quite high.

Lead Inspection

A lead inspection is designed to answer two questions: “Is there lead-based paint present in the housing unit?” and “Where is the lead-based paint?” Surveying a housing unit for lead-based paint is typically performed using an X-ray Fluorescence analyzer, called an XRF. Paint or other coatings with lead levels above the established threshold are considered lead based (see the definition for lead-based paint). The HUD Guidelines include a protocol for conducting a lead inspection. A Final Inspection Report identifies all surfaces with lead based paint but does not provide the consumer with information about the condition of the paint, the presence of lead contaminated dust or soil, or options for controlling any hazards found.

A lead paint inspection is most appropriate for property owners who need to know where lead based paint is located, such as in the following situations:

  • People considering renovation, remodeling or demolition work that would disturb painted surfaces and may generate lead dust hazards unless proper precautions are followed.
  • Home sellers desiring specific information about lead for marketing purposes.
  • Home buyers or renters who want to know how much lead paint is present and its location (or who feel strongly that they want a home that contains no lead-based paint).
  • Rental property owners seeking exemption from the federal lead disclosure requirements by demonstrating that a specific property does not contain lead based paint.
  • Rental property owners who might need or desire documentation about lead based paint for insurance, financing, or other reasons.
  • Those facing a state or local requirement to abate all lead based paint.


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