Are You Planning To Buy, Rent, or Renovate a Home Built Before 1978?
Did you know that many houses and apartments built before 1978 have lead-based paint? Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards.
Read this article to learn:
- How lead gets into the body
- How lead affects health
- What you can do to protect your family
- Where to go for more information
Before renting or buying a pre-1978 home or apartment, federal law requires:
- Sellers must disclose known information on lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards before selling a house
- Real estate sales contracts must include a specific warning statement about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead.
- Landlords must disclose known information on lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a specific warning statement about lead-based paint.
If undertaking renovations, repairs, or painting (RRP) projects in your pre-1978 home or apartment:
- Read EPA’s pamphlet, The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right,to learn about the lead-safe work practices that contractors are required to follow when working in your home.
Simple Steps to Protect Your Family from Lead Hazards
If you think your home has lead-based paint:
- Don’t try to remove lead-based paint yourself.
- Always keep painted surfaces in good condition to minimize deterioration.
- Get your home checked for lead hazards. Find a certified inspector or risk assessor at epa.gov/lead.
- Talk to your landlord about fixing surfaces with peeling or chipping paint.
- Regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces.
- Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling.
- When renovating, repairing, or painting, hire only EPA- or state-approved Lead-Safe certified renovation firms.
- Before buying, renting, or renovating your home, have it checked for lead-based paint.
- Consult your health care provider about testing your children for lead. Your pediatrician can check for lead with a simple blood test.
- Wash children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Make sure children eat healthy, low-fat foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C.
- Remove shoes or wipe soil of shoes before entering your house.
Lead Gets into the Body in Many Ways
Adults and children can get lead into their bodies if they:
- Breathe in lead dust (especially during activities such as renovations, repairs, or painting that disturb painted surfaces).
- Swallow lead dust that has settled on food, food preparation surfaces, and other places.
- Eat paint chips or soil that contains lead.
Lead is especially dangerous to children under the age of 6.
- At this age, children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
- Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead.
- Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.
Women of childbearing age should know that lead is dangerous to a developing fetus.
- Women with a high lead level in their system before or during pregnancy risk exposing the fetus to lead through the placenta during fetal development.
Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
Health Effects of Lead
Lead affects the body in many ways. It is important to know that even exposure to low levels of lead can severely harm children.
In children, exposure to lead can cause:
In children, lead can cause:
- Nervous system and kidney damage.
- Learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and decreased intelligence.
- Speech, language, and behavior problems.
- Poor muscle coordination.
- Decreased muscle and bone growth.
- Hearing damage.
While low-lead exposure is most common, exposure to high levels of lead can have devastating effects on children, including seizures, unconsciousness, and, in some cases, death.
Although children are especially susceptible to lead exposure, lead can be dangerous for adults too.
In adults, exposure to lead can cause:
- Harm to a developing fetus
- Increased chance of high blood pressure during pregnancy
- Fertility problems (in men and women)
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Nerve disorders
- Memory and concentration problems
- Muscle and joint pain
Check Your Family for Lead
Get your children and home tested if you think your home has lead.
Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase rapidly from 6 to 12 months of age, and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
Consult your doctor for advice on testing your children. A simple blood test can detect lead. Blood lead tests are usually recommended for:
- Children at ages 1 and 2
- Children or other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead
- Children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan
Your doctor can explain what the test results mean and if more testing will be needed.
Where Lead-Based Paint Is Found
In general, the older your home or childcare facility, the more likely it has lead-based paint.
Many homes, including private, federally-assisted, federally-owned housing, and childcare facilities built before 1978 have lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint.
Lead can be found:
- In homes and childcare facilities in the city, country, or suburbs,
- In private and public single-family homes and apartments,
- On surfaces inside and outside of the house, and
- In soil around a home. (Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint or other sources, such as past use of leaded gas in cars.)
Learn more about where lead is found at epa.gov/lead.
Identifying Lead-Based Paint and Lead-Based Paint Hazards
Deteriorated lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, or damaged paint) is a hazard and needs immediate attention. Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear and tear, such as:
- On windows and window sills
- Doors and door frames
- Stairs, railings, banisters, and porches
Lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition and if it is not on an impact or friction surface like a window.
Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is scraped, sanded, or heated. Lead dust also forms when painted surfaces containing lead bump or rub together. Lead paint chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can reenter the air when the home is vacuumed or swept, or when people walk through it. EPA currently defines the following levels of lead in dust as hazardous:
- 10 micrograms per square foot (μg/ft2) and higher for floors, including carpeted floors
- 100 μg/ft2 and higher for interior window sills
Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes. EPA currently defines the following levels of lead in soil as hazardous:
- 400 parts per million (ppm) and higher in play areas of bare soil
- 1,200 ppm (average) and higher in bare soil in the remainder of the yard
Remember, lead from paint chips—which you can see—and lead dust—which you may not be able to see—both can be hazards.
The only way to find out if paint, dust and soil lead hazards exist is to test for them. The next section describes how to do this.
Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can’t always see, can both be serious hazards.
Checking Your Home for Lead
You can get your home tested for lead in several different ways:
A lead-based paint inspection tells you if your home has lead-based paint and where it is located. It won’t tell you whether your home currently has lead hazards. A trained and certified testing professional, called a lead-based paint inspector, will conduct a paint inspection using methods, such as a portable x-ray fluorescence machine or lab tests of paint samples.
A risk assessment tells you if your home currently has any lead hazards from lead
in paint, dust, or soil. It also tells you what actions to take to address any hazards. A trained and certified testing professional, called a risk assessor, will:
- Sample paint that is deteriorated on doors, windows, floors, stairs, and walls
- Sample dust near painted surfaces and sample bare soil in the yard
- Get lab tests of paint, dust, and soil samples
A combination risk assessment and inspection tells you if your home has any lead hazards and if your home has any lead-based paint, and where the lead-based paint is located.
Be sure to read the report provided to you after your inspection or risk assessment is completed, and ask questions about anything you do not understand.
In preparing for renovation, repair, or painting work in a pre-1978 home, Lead-Safe Certified renovators may:
- Take paint chip samples to determine if lead-based paint is present in the area planned for renovation and send them to an EPA-recognized lead lab for analysis. In housing receiving federal assistance, the person collecting these samples must be a certified lead-based paint inspector or risk assessor
- Use EPA-recognized tests kits to determine if lead-based paint is absent (but not in housing receiving federal assistance)
- Presume that lead-based paint is present and use lead-safe work practices
There are state and federal programs in place to ensure that testing is done safely, reliably, and effectively. Contact your state or local agency for more information, visit epa.gov/lead, or call 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) for a list of contacts in your area.
What You Can Do Now To Protect Your Family
If you suspect that your house has lead-based paint hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family’s risk:
- If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
- Keep painted surfaces clean and free of dust. Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner. (Remember: never mix ammonia and bleach products together because they can form a dangerous gas.)
- Carefully clean up paint chips immediately without creating dust.
- Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads often during cleaning of dirty or dusty areas, and again afterward.
- Wash your hands and your children’s hands often, especially before they eat and before nap time and bed time.
- Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals regularly.
- Keep children from chewing window sills or other painted surfaces, or eating soil.
- When renovating, repairing, or painting, hire only EPA- or state-approved Lead-Safe Certified renovation firms.
- Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
- Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron, and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
Reducing Lead Hazards
Disturbing lead-based paint or removing lead improperly can increase the hazard to your family by spreading even more lead dust around the house.
- In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition, you can temporarily reduce lead-based paint hazards by taking actions, such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover lead-contaminated soil. These actions are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.
- You can minimize exposure to lead when renovating, repairing, or painting by hiring an EPA- or state-certified renovator who is trained in the use of lead-safe work practices. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, learn how to use lead–safe work practices in your home.
- To remove lead hazards permanently, you should hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not permanent control.
Always use a certified contractor who is trained to address lead hazards safely.
- Hire a Lead-Safe Certified firm (see page 12) to perform renovation, repair, or painting (RRP) projects that disturb painted surfaces.
- To correct lead hazards permanently, hire a certified lead abatement contractor. This will ensure your contractor knows how to work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly.
Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules as set by their state or by the federal government.
If your home has had lead abatement work done or if the housing is receiving federal assistance, once the work is completed, dust cleanup activities must be conducted until clearance testing indicates that lead dust levels are below the following levels:
- 10 micrograms per square foot (μg/ft2) for floors, including carpeted floors
- 100 μg/ft2 for interior windows sills
- 400 μg/ft2 for window troughs
Abatements are designed to permanently eliminate lead-based paint hazards. However, lead dust can be reintroduced into an abated area.
- Use a HEPA vacuum on all furniture and other items returned to the area, to reduce the potential for reintroducing lead dust.
- Regularly clean floors, window sills, troughs, and other hard surfaces with a damp cloth or sponge and a general all-purpose cleaner.
Please see page 9 for more information on steps you can take to protect your home after the abatement. For help in locating certified lead abatement professionals in your area, call your state or local agency (see pages 15 and 16), epa.gov/lead, or call 1-800-424-LEAD.
Renovating, Repairing or Painting a Home with Lead-Based Paint
If you hire a contractor to conduct renovation, repair, or painting (RRP) projects in your pre-1978 home or childcare facility (such as pre-school and kindergarten), your contractor must:
- Be a Lead-Safe Certified firm approved by EPA or an EPA-authorized state program
- Use qualified trained individuals (Lead-Safe Certified renovators) who follow specific lead-safe work practices to prevent lead contamination
- Provide a copy of EPA’s lead hazard information document, The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right
RRP contractors working in pre-1978 homes and childcare facilities must follow lead-safe work practices that:
- Contain the work area. The area must be contained so that dust and debris do not escape from the work area. Warning signs must be put up, and plastic or other impermeable material and tape must be used.
- Avoid renovation methods that generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust. Some methods generate so much lead-contaminated dust that their use is prohibited. They are:
- Open-flame burning or torching
- Sanding, grinding, planing, needle gunning, or blasting with power tools and equipment not equipped with a shroud and HEPA vacuum attachment
- Using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100°F
- Clean up thoroughly. The work area should be cleaned up daily. When all the work is done, the area must be cleaned up using special cleaning methods.
- Dispose of waste properly. Collect and seal waste in a heavy duty bag or sheeting. When transported, ensure that waste is contained to prevent release of dust and debris.
To learn more about EPA’s requirements for RRP projects, visit epa.gov/getleadsafe, or read The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right.
While paint, dust,
and soil are the
sources of lead,
sources also exist.
Other Sources of Lead
Lead in Drinking Water
The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures.
Lead pipes are more likely to be found in older cities and homes built before 1986.
You can’t smell or taste lead in drinking water.
To find out for certain if you have lead in drinking water, have your water tested.
Remember older homes with a private well can also have plumbing materials that contain lead.
Important Steps You Can Take to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Remember, boiling water does not remove lead from water.
Before drinking, flush your home’s pipes by running the tap, taking a shower, doing laundry, or doing a load of dishes.
Regularly clean your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator).
If you use a filter certified to remove lead, don’t forget to read the directions to learn when to change the cartridge. Using a filter after it has expired can make it less effective at removing lead.
Contact your water company to determine if the pipe that connects your home to the water main (called a service line) is made from lead. Your area’s water company can also provide information about the lead levels in your system’s drinking water.
For more information about lead in drinking water, please contact EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791. If you have other questions about lead poisoning prevention, call 1-800 424-LEAD.*
Call your local health department or water company to find out about testing your water, or visit epa.gov/safewater for EPA’s lead in drinking water information. Some states or utilities offer programs to pay for water testing for residents. Contact your state or local water company to learn more.
Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air.
Your job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your body or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes.
Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture. Call your local health department for information about hobbies that may use lead.
Old toys and furniture may have been painted with lead-containing paint. Older toys and other children’s products may have parts that contain lead.4
Food and liquids cooked or stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain may contain lead.
Folk remedies, such as “greta” and “azarcon,” used to treat an upset stomach.
For More Information
The National Lead Information Center
Call 1-800-424-LEAD (424-5323) to learn how to protect children from lead poisoning and for other information on lead hazards. To access lead information via the web, visit
EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline
For information about lead in drinking water, call 1-800-426-4791, or visit epa.gov/safewater for information about lead in drinking water.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Hotline
For information on lead in toys and other consumer products, or to report an unsafe consumer product or a product-related injury, call 1-800-638-2772, or visit CPSC’s website at cpsc.gov or saferproducts.gov.
State and Local Health and Environmental Agencies
Some states, tribes, and cities have their own rules related to lead-based paint. Check with your local agency to see which laws apply to you. Most agencies can also provide information on finding a lead abatement firm in your area, and on possible sources of financial aid for reducing lead hazards. Receive up-to-date address and phone information for your state or local contacts on the Web at epa.gov/lead, or contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD.
For the hearing impaired, call the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 to access any of the phone numbers in this brochure.
Sources: US EPA, US CPSC, US HUD