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What You Should Know About Lead-Based Paint

Most houses, apartments and commercial buildings built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. Lead-based paint produced before 1960 contains higher concentrations of lead than paint manufactured in later years. In fact, the older the home, the more likely it is to have lead-based paint hazards.

HUD and EPA estimate that at least 19 million homes in the U.S. have lead-based paint hazards, of which at least 4 million were occupied by families with young children under age 6 (HUD 1990; EPA 1995). Over time, homes with these specific conditions change, as families age or move, and as buildings deteriorate

Lead-based paint can be on walls, ceilings, woodwork, windows, and sometimes floors. When lead-based paint on these surfaces is broken, sanded, or scraped, it breaks into tiny, usually invisible, pieces that you or your child may swallow or inhale. Even small repair and renovation jobs, including repainting projects, can create enough lead dust and chips to harm you. If proper precautions are not taken, renovation, remodeling and maintenance, including repainting, can generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust and soil.

Before You Repair or Renovate

BEFORE you disturb a surface with old paint on it, you should ...

  Contact a certified lead inspector or call your county health department or check your yellow pages under lead-paint detection services.
  If lead-based paint is found in your home, have the repair or renovation done by a contractor who has been trained in "lead-safe work practices."

If You Suspect That You Have Lead Paint  . . .

AVOID the following activities, which can produce dust and chips:

  dry scraping, sanding, or using a heat gun on painted surfaces before repainting;
  making holes in walls to get at pipes, or tearing out walls;
  allowing furniture or other objects to bump against painted surfaces, or unnecessarily opening and closing windows and doors with painted frames and sills.


If You are Doing the Repair or Renovation 

If you will do repairs or renovations yourself in areas where you know or suspect lead-based paint is present, you SHOULD:

Move children and pregnant women to another apartment or house until work is completed and the area is properly cleaned.

Seal off the work area with 6 mil plastic and duct tape. Also, cover AC/heating ducts, furniture, carpets, rugs, and floors. Dispose of the plastic carefully.

To keep dust down, lightly mist painted surfaces with water before you work on them.

Clean up thoroughly.

  Always clean up dust and chips with wet mops or rags soaked in a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) or phosphate-containing powdered dishwasher detergent and warm water. (Powdered dishwasher detergents are recommended because most have high phosphate contents. Most multipurpose household cleaners are not effective in cleaning up lead dust.)
  To avoid skin irritation when cleaning with TSP or high-phosphate dishwasher detergent, wear rubber gloves.
  Use two buckets-one for wash water and one for rinse water.

To prevent recontamination of cleaned surfaces, wash mops and rags thoroughly after each use. If this is not possible, or if you have already used the mops and rags several times, place them in plastic bags and dispose of them carefully.

Avoid dry sweeping or vacuuming the work area with an ordinary vacuum. Sweeping spreads lead dust around. Vacuuming also spreads lead dust around, since tiny lead particles can pass through and out of ordinary vacuum cleaners.


If Repairs or Renovations have been completed

If renovations have already occurred or are occurring, you should do the following:

  Keep children away from paint dust and chips.
  Clean up all dust and chips with wet mops and rags, as described above. Pay special attention to floors and to window sills and wells.
  Close your windows if work is going on outside your home that may be scattering lead dust (for example, a neighbor scraping exterior paint). Using wet mops and rags, clean up any dust that has gotten into your home.
  Have children under six years old tested for lead. To arrange for testing, call your doctor or your local health department.