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Lead - Frequently Asked Questions

[Source: Lead Safe Illinois and the Environmental Protection Agency]

Lead is more likely to be found in older homesLead-based paint is the most dangerous source of lead in the home. While it was banned in housing in 1978, lead paint can be still found in and around homes – especially those that have not been well maintained or were poorly renovated. Lead can also be found in varnish, stain, or even some wallpaper preparations.

When painted surfaces are damaged, the lead in the paint can turn to dust. Painted surfaces get damaged when they are bumped or rubbed often, such as on door frames or window sills, and when paint chips, cracks, or peels. Lead dust can come from opening and closing windows, through normal wear and tear, and through repairing areas with lead-based paint without using lead-safe work practices.

Lead dust is most harmful to children and pregnant women. Dust that contains lead looks just like any other dust. It can be found in and around windows, on floors, on furniture or on other objects. Lead dust also settles on floors and gets on children's hands and toys. Young children can swallow lead dust when they put their hands or toys into their mouths. Children can also become lead poisoned by eating, chewing, or sucking on things covered with lead-based paint, such as window sills, railings, or other painted surfaces, including some children’s products.

Why is lead in some homes?

Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. In general, the older a home, the more likely it has lead-based paint.

The most common sources of household lead are:

  • Paint: The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, but homes built before this time may have used lead paint.
  • Dust: Household dust can be contaminated with lead from paint, as can the soil around a house whose exterior was painted with lead paint.
  • Drinking water: Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder.

Can lead cause health problems?

If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

What should I do about lead?

You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.

To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Abatement methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.

Who should do the cleanup?

Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems -- someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government.

For more information, see the EPA's web site.

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