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What Is A Lead-Based-Paint Test? (And Why You Might Need One)

door that needs a lead paint test
Many homes built before 1978 contain lead paint. Testing can help protect the health of your family.

Although it’s been in the news as a health concern in recent years, the presence of lead in homes became a concern of the federal government decades ago. In 1976, the Consumer Product Safety Commission effectively banned the use of leaded paint in newly built homes, and now all homes built before 1978 require a lead-based-paint disclosure. It’s recommended that buyers have a lead-paint test done during real estate transactions or before home remodeling or renovation projects.

Why is lead harmful in homes?

Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is a common cause of lead poisoning. It is especially dangerous to children under the age of 6, who can get the toxic pollutant in their bodies in a variety of ways, including breathing in lead dust during remodeling or renovation work, swallowing lead that has settled on food or food-preparation surfaces, and eating paint chips from windowsills, door frames, or other surfaces in or around their home.

The older a home is, the more likely it is that lead is present. In homes built between 1960 and 1977, 24% contained lead-based paint, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In homes constructed between 1940 and 1959, the number containing lead paint had risen to 69%; for homes built before 1940, the number with lead in their paint was an astonishing 87%.

When a pre-1978-built home is sold or leased, federal law requires that sellers disclose known information on lead-based paint or lead-based-paint hazards; real estate sales contracts must include a specific warning statement about lead-based paint, with buyers having up to 10 days to check for lead; and landlords must disclose known information on lead-based paint before a lease takes effect (including a specific warning statement about lead-based paint).

How can you test for lead?

When an inspection to determine lead-based paint is needed, the EPA strongly suggests hiring a trained and certified professional, who’ll most likely use a portable X-ray fluorescence machine and test paint samples in a lab to determine the presence of lead. This is an especially good option if you think the soil around your home may have lead — not just the paint in your house. These tests will be followed by an assessment of how to repair or abate the toxic material. Any renovation, repair, or painting work that results from the assessment should be performed by lead-safe-certified renovators. Many states provide lists of inspectors and lead-abating professionals who are trained and certified to do such work. Just do an online search for your state’s environmental protection division to determine which inspectors or renovators are certified in your area.

If you want to quickly test the paint in your home before calling in a pro, you can purchase a DIY lead-testing kit in your home improvement store — they cost about $20 to $40. These EPA-approved kits change colors if lead is in your paint, which makes results instantaneous and easy to read.

If you suspect there’s lead in your home and are awaiting tests or any resulting repair or renovation work, there also are immediate steps you can take to protect family members, including housecleaning measures that keep surfaces free of dust, washing hands often, and keeping children’s play areas clean. Such steps, and much more information about lead in general, can be found in an informative brochure issued by the EPA.

Have you ever had a lead-based-paint test done? What was your experience like? Share in the comments!

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