Do I Have Lead in My Home?

If you’re worried that there might be lead in your home, the first thing to do is find out the year it was built.

The U.S. government banned lead-based paints for use in housing in 1978. But if your home was built before that, it may contain some lead-based paint. In fact, an estimated 24 million houses have peeling leaded paint and higher than normal levels of lead-filled house dust.

What to Do Next

Take the following steps to find out if your house possibly contains lead:

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A paint inspection. This lets you know how much lead is in each painted surface in your home. But it doesn’t tell you if the paint is dangerous or what to do if it is. Consider having a paint inspection done when you’re buying a home, signing a lease, or before you renovate.

A risk assessment. This review lets you know if peeling paint and lead dust pose a serious health risk. It also lets you know what to do to fix it. This is most helpful if you want to know whether lead is causing exposure to your family now.

You can test for lead in your home in one of the following three ways:

Home test kits. These tell you if lead is present, but not how much is present. You can buy these kits in paint stores, hardware stores, and building supply stores.

Environmental lab tests. These cost more than do-it-yourself home test kits. Visit the National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program (NLLAP) website to find a lab in your area. Call and ask them how to collect your sample. You can also use a home test kit and send the sample to a lab.

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Licensed lead risk assessors. Your local health department can send a trained and licensed professional to check your home for lead.

How to Avoid Contamination

If your home tests positive for lead-based paint and dust, take these steps to keep your family safe:

  • Keep children away from peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead- based paint.
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls.
  • Regularly wash little ones’ hands and toys.
  • Mop your floors and use a wet cloth to wipe down windows.
  • Take off your shoes at the door. This helps prevent tracking soil that contains lead inside the house.

You should also test your drinking water for lead.That’s because this mineral can get into your water through plumbing materials that start to rust or break down. Homes built before 1986 are most likely to have lead pipes. But new homes are also at risk.

Again, you can buy home testing kits at your local hardware store. You can also call your state or local water department. You can find their info by calling the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

If your water tests positive for lead, try these tips to limit your exposure:

  • Flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it turns cold.
  • Use cold water -- never hot -- for cooking and drinking.
  • Replace plumbing fixtures that contain lead.
  • Use bottled water or a water filter to reduce lead levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet -- it might help lower the amount of lead your body absorbs.

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