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What are the Dangers of Lead Paint?

Updated Mar 03, 2024
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According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as many as one out of 11 children in the United States have high concentrations of lead in their bloodstream. During the years prior to 1978, many, if not most, homes were painted using lead-based products. These older homes are a source for lead poisoning that primarily affects children. The dangers of lead paint were brought to the attention of the general public in 1978 when the government officially banned the use of lead-based paints and products. As a general rule of thumb, the older your home is, the higher the risk is that it contains lead paint.

Lead gets into the human body in a number of ways, primarily when people touch surfaces that have been painted with lead paint. Painted surfaces can include walls, floors, doors and window sills. As the lead paint ages, the deteriorating paint breaks down into paint flakes or dust. This paint dust can infiltrate the air throughout a home causing the intake of lead into the lungs. Other methods of transfer include touching lead paint surfaces and then putting your fingers in your mouth, or walking through dust and transferring that dust to other parts of your body. Anyone who comes in contact with the dust runs the risk of a high concentration of lead.

Lead contamination in children can cause a variety of health problems, from headaches and hearing problems to brain damage and behavioral problems. In adults, being around too much lead paint can cause a wide range of medical conditions including high blood pressure, reproductive problems, memory loss, digestive ailments and joint & muscle pain.

If your home was built before 1978, it is best to have your house tested for lead even if the paint doesn't show visible signs of peeling or flaking. Hiring a professional painter to conduct a lead paint inspection will ease your mind; their risk assessment of the potential safety dangers will provide you with the information needed to make the decision whether to repaint your home. If you decide that your home needs painting, be sure to hire professional painters who are experts in managing the dangers of lead-based paint. The sanding and stripping of lead paint can increase the lead in the air and cause lead contamination. They use special techniques to control the spread of lead as they paint your home.

Paint is not the only source of lead, however. Lead is also found in certain soils, and tap water that comes through older plumbing where lead-based pipes or solder was used. In addition to lead found around the home, be watchful of other sources of lead including: old painted toys and furniture, hobby supplies used in stained glass work and pottery, and drinks or food stored in lead crystal decanters or pottery with lead glazes.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon995298 — On Apr 18, 2016

I live and work at home in a rental house with lead paint (no kids). I am here virtually all day and night. The floors where I walk barefoot are also lead-painted.

My landlord assured me that the paint poses no risk as long as it does not appear to be flaking or chipping. Is this true, or have I been exposing myself to lead poisoning?

Is there any risk of the lead off-gassing on hot days?

By anon269947 — On May 20, 2012

I was in the U.S. Navy from 1967 - 1971. I, along with others scraped, chipped, hammered, and sanded lead-based paint off ships, inside and out. We then repainted the surfaces with lead-based paint I am now experiencing memory loss and kidney problems. Please help me out. --Basil

By cougars — On May 26, 2011

What considerations must I take into account when I am having a house with lead paint demolished? I plan to rebuild on the lot, but I want to make sure that all of the paint is cleaned up so I do not have a contaminated building site. Would a lead paint inspector be able to give me details about this?

By Alchemy — On May 24, 2011

@GiraffeEars- Any house built before 1978 was possibly painted with lead paint. Your agent is supposed to give you the lead paint disclosure before you make a decision to buy the house. I would be careful when buying a house with lead paint. Lead paint upkeep can be costly and time consuming. In a place where you have harsh weather, the maintenance on buildings with lead paint is more frequent.

You should make sure that you receive the EPA lead paint information packet with your lead paint disclosure before making a decision. In my opinion, I would look for a better deal and a better agent. The market is overrun with houses so you will be able to find something else you like.

By GiraffeEars — On May 23, 2011

Should I buy a house if there is still lead based paint on it? What does lead based paint removal entail?

I am house shopping in Massachusetts and I found this nice cape cod bungalow that I wanted to buy, but just before I was about to make an offer the agent told me that the house had lead paint. He said it is not a problem because it has been maintained and painted over, but I am still a little nervous. The house is about 80 years old, but it has been renovated to some extents. This is my first time buying a home and I do not want it to be a disaster.

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