Answers About Lead in Paint

The paint industry has not used lead in its products for many years, but there are still concerns from consumers about this heavy metal. Lead is useful in many industrial processes and manufactured products, but it also can be harmful, especially to infants and young children.

Even though paints manufactured today do not contain lead, lead is present in the paint of some older homes. If the old paint is chipped, peeling or cracking, or if it's on a friction surface (around doors or windows), impact surface (sills or baseboards) or on a surface that a young child can mouth or chew, it can be a hazard.

Some doctors recommend that all children under 6 years of age have their blood tested for lead at least once a year. Ask your pediatrician or clinic for advice. If a test is recommended and shows your child's blood-lead level is higher than it should be, you need to locate the source of lead.

If you suspect that the source is old paint, there are various tests you can use to find out for sure, including home-test kits or laboratory analysis of paint chips.

If your home contains large areas of lead-based paint in bad condition, abatement may be your only option. Abatement must be done by a licensed contractor who is fully trained in the removable and disposal of the lead. This can be very expensive. However, if your paint is in good condition, there may be some simpler, less expensive interim solutions.

Experts say a more common exposure pathway than chewing or sucking on paint chips is through lead-contaminated dust or soil, which gets on children's hands and into their mouths during normal hand-to-mouth activity. You'll want to make sure that surface dust in the house is lead-free. An accredited laboratory can help by analyzing a dust sample.

If the test results show significant amounts of lead dust, upholstered furniture and rugs may have to be professionally cleaned or even replaced. Similarly, if chipped or peeling paint is confined to small trim areas, the best solution may be to remove and replace them.

Once paint is intact, you can take in-place management steps to keep it that way. These include cleaning up dust on floors. But don't use a broom or regular household vacuum cleaner. Professionals use a special high-efficiency particulate air-filtered vacuum, and follow up with wet mopping.

If you have any questions about lead in paint, contact a professional paint store for advice.

This information is from "Dealing With Lead-Based Paint," an article produced via a cooperative effort of the National Paint & Coatings Association, the Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology, Painting & Decorating Contractors of America, and Paint & Decorating Retailers Association -