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Testing for and Removing Lead Paint

Was your house or apartment built before 1978? If it was, there may be lead-based paint on the inside and out. That could pose a serious risk of lead poisoning, especially if you’re pregnant or have small children.

Should you be concerned about lead paint in your home? Here are some quick tips that can help you decide whether you need to test your home for lead -- with suggestions on what to do if you find it.

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What’s the Problem With Lead-Based Paint?

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause serious health problems if it's ingested or if dust containing lead is inhaled. Up until 1978, when federal regulations restricted the use of lead in household paint, lead was a common component in exterior and interior paints.

As long as lead paint is in good condition, and the surface hasn't been broken, the paint doesn't pose a serious health threat. The problem comes when the lead paint starts deteriorating, when lead dust and flakes of lead paint begin accumulating on surfaces such as window sills, counter tops, and floors, as well as on children's toys, clothes, and bedding. It can also contaminate soil around the house. Small children, who have a tendency to put their hands and other objects in their mouth, are at an increased risk of accumulating harmful amounts of lead in their bodies.

Is Lead Poisoning Only a Problem for Small Children?

Anyone can be dangerously affected by exposure to lead. But children under six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, for several reasons.

Young children have a tendency to put things that can have lead dust on them into their mouths. And the younger they are, the greater the chance a child may put chips of peeling paint, lead dust, or lead-contaminated soil in their mouth. Consequently, young children are much more likely to consume large amounts of lead than older kids or adults, whose main risk comes from breathing lead dust.

Children's growing bodies also absorb more lead than adult bodies do, and a young child's brain and nervous system are more sensitive to the damage lead can cause. But lead can and does affect adults, especially after long-term exposure.

Lead also poses a threat for unborn babies. If there is lead in the mother's system, it can pass to the fetus and cause premature birth, low birth weight, and brain and nerve damage.

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