Lead in the Home

Lead (Pb.), a common and serious hazard!

Lead is a metal with a very low melting point. It is soft, it is easy to work, it is an easy to use paint and glazing additive and it is poisonous.

Some archaeologists have speculated that the Roman Empire collapsed because of lead poisoning as a result of lead water lines in the homes of the wealthy and powerful citizens of Rome. Modern studies suggest that as many as one in eleven children suffer from lead poisoning. We also know that lead was a common metal in various household materials which were in common use until 1978 (and in less common use after that date).

Lead poisoning is a very serious concern, especially so for small children. Dealing with lead contamination can be very expensive and complicated. Recent changes in the law require disclosure of lead contamination and of a potential for lead contamination during the sale, rental, and lease of certain real estate properties.


  • Due to the relative ease of using lead, and due to it's relative abundance and low cost, lead was a very popular ingredient in many household and building products. The most common of these are:

    Interior and Exterior Surfaces

    • Lead containing paint - very common in pre-1978 homes
    • Lead containing dust and soil - common in and around pre-1978 homes and industrial sites
    • Construction dust and debris from pre 1978 structures

    Plumbing (from Latin 'plumbum', lead)

    • Lead water supply lines - rare in 20th century homes
    • Lead solder in copper supply lines - common in pre-1980 homes
    • Lead drain lines - very common but of little danger

    Household Items

    • Pottery glazed with lead based glazing
    • Lead Crystal
    • Paint on surfaces of some toys, furniture and other items

  • Under the rules of the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 (commonly called 'Title 10'), disclosure about lead in homes may be required. Here are the words from the folks at HUD and the EPA:


    Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. By 1996, federal law will require that individuals receive certain information before renting, buying, or renovating pre-1978 housing:

    LANDLORDS will have to disclose known information on lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases will include a federal form about lead-based paint.

    SELLERS will have to disclose known information on lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts will include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building. Buyers will have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.

    RENOVATORS will have to give you this pamphlet before starting work.

    If you want more information on these requirements (and even more information about lead), call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD or the EPA's Lead Information.

  • More good information from the National Lead Information Clearinghouse:

    "Lead's Effects"

    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 (such as hyperactivity)
    • Slowed growth
    • Hearing problems
    • Headaches

    Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:

    • Difficulties during pregnancy
    • Other reproductive problems (in both men and women)
    • High blood pressure
    • Digestive problems
    • Nerve disorders
    • Memory and concentration problems
    • Muscle and joint pain

    *Lead affects the body in many ways.*

    In other words, lead is bad.

    Lead poisoning can sometimes be hard to detect since some of the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases.

  • O.K., O.K., you have heard such stories before. Asbestos, radon, second-hand smoke, etc., now its lead. And I bet that your grandma lived to 96, ate out of lead glazed dishes, and drank bottles full of lead containing "stomach elixirs".

      Based on what I have learned and read, lead can be a concern to everyone, but the greatest concerns regarding lead contamination are (in an approximate order of priority):

    1. Pregnant women and the developing fetus.
    2. Young and growing children.
    3. Children living in old houses which are in poor condition.
    4. Lead poisoning concerns are greatest for the fetus, pregnant women, and for young children.
    5. People living in older homes which are/were renovated without proper dust control.
    6. People who drink lead contaminated water.
    7. People exposure to contaminated areas, industrial areas, or dusty construction sights.
    8. Users of glazed dishes which contain lead. Most of the household items sold in the US in the last 15 years were tested for lead. Specialty items, imported items, and "the lovely one of a kind bowl picked up at a market during the last trip", are more likely to contain lead containing glazes.
    9. People who are buying, selling, renting, leasing, or renovating houses. As with many other issues like this, lead is a health issue and also an economic issue. It is now also a legal issue, the Lead Disclosure Act is the law in the US.
    10. People who have some decorative cut glass made out of lead crystal, live in a well maintained Victorian home with lead paint, and use the lead glazed pottery to store a collection of lead soldiers.

      In other words, most contamination occurs when the lead is released into the air or water, and is ingested or inhaled.

  • Lead contamination of soil is a common problem as a result of old paint chips from exterior paint and airborne lead containing dust from some factories and some smelters. Such contamination can be of concern in play areas, vegetable patches, etc.

    Soil which has been contaminated with lead containing paint chips often looks identical to soil which is free of such contamination. Similarly, there is no way to perform a visual inspection for airborne lead contamination.

  • As explained by the EPA:

    "Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:

    • Visual inspection of paint condition and location.
    • Lab tests of paint samples.
    • Surface dust tests.
    • A portable x-ray fluorescence machine.

    Home test kits for lead are available, but the federal government is still testing their reliability. These tests should not be the only method used before doing renovations or to assure safety."

  • In testing for the presence of any substance, it is useful to try and remember an important lesson from our high school logic class, e.g. you can't prove a negative. For example: you can't prove that there is no lead in a house. You can test 1,000 samples of paint and find them to be lead free, but sample #1,001 might still contain lead.

    As related to issues like: lead, (asbestos, oil tank leaks etc.), this means that:

    1. You should test for a suspected material in the most likely place(s) where the material might be found. For example: lead paint is much more likely to exist on painted old woodwork than on plaster walls.
    2. You should test for lead in the material most likely to contaminate the area in which pregnant women and small children might be exposed. For example: painted woodwork in a child's room or painted material which is being disturbed during a construction process.
    3. Don't assume that all look alike material has the same chemical content. For example: lead containing and lead free solder and paint can look alike. The installer may have run out of a product during the work and continued with a matching product with a different chemical content.
    4. Disclosure laws may require a party to reveal knowledge of a condition or the likelihood of a condition. Such laws may require a party to reveal that a material was tested for a hazardous material and was found to contain such material. Such laws may also require a party to reveal the possibility that a hazardous material may exist. (If you are in doubt about the law, check with your attorney.) But there is no way to prove that something does not exist.

  • (More information from the National Lead Information Clearinghouse)

    "If you suspect that your house has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family's risk:

    • If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
    • Clean up paint chips immediately.
    • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER SINCE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
    • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas.
    • Wash 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.
    • 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 low-fat dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead."

  • (And more information from the National Lead Information Clearinghouse)

    "*Removing lead improperly can increase the hazard to your family by spreading even more lead dust around the house.*

    *Always use a professional who is trained to remove lead hazards safely.*

    In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition:

    • You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions like repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions (called "interim controls") are not permanent solutions and will not eliminate all risks of exposure.
    • To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a 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 enough.

    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. If possible, hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules as set by their state or by the federal government.

    Call your state agency (see below) for help with locating qualified contractors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available."


    Some cities and states have their own rules for lead-based paint activities. Check with your state agency (listed below) to see if state or local laws apply to you. Most state 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.

    State/Region Phone Number Alabama (205) 242-5661 Alaska (907) 465-5152 Arkansas (501) 661-2534 Arizona (602) 542-7307 California (510) 450-2424 Colorado (303) 692-3012 Connecticut (203) 566-5808 Washington, DC (202) 727-9850 Delaware (302) 739-4735 Florida (904) 488-3385 Georgia (404) 657-6514 Hawaii (808) 832-5860 Idaho (208) 332-5544 Illinois (800) 545-2200 Indiana (317) 382-6662 Iowa (800) 972-2026 Kansas (913) 296-0189 Kentucky (502) 564-2154 Louisiana (504) 765-0219 Massachusetts (800) 532-9571 Maryland (410) 631-3859 Maine (207) 287-4311 Michigan (517) 335-8885 Minnesota (612) 627-5498 Mississippi (601) 960-7463 Missouri (314) 526-4911 Montana (406) 444-3671 Nebraska (402) 471-2451 Nevada (702) 687-6615 New Hampshire (603) 271-4507 New Jersey (609) 633-2043 New Mexico (505) 841-8024 New York (800) 458-1158 North Carolina (919) 715-3293 North Dakota (701) 328-5188 Ohio (614) 466-1450 Oklahoma (405) 271-5220 Oregon (503) 248-5240 Pennsylvania (717) 782-2884 Rhode Island (401) 277-3424 South Carolina (803) 935-7945 South Dakota (605) 773-3153 Tennessee (615) 741-5683 Texas (512) 834-6600 Utah (801) 536-4000 Vermont (802) 863-7231 Virginia (800) 523-4019 Washington (206) 753-2556 West Virginia (304) 558-2981 Wisconsin (608) 266-5885 Wyoming (307) 777-7391


    Your Regional EPA Office can provide further information regarding regulations and lead protection programs.

    EPA Regional Offices

    Region 1 (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) John F. Kennedy Federal Building One Congress Street Boston, MA 02203 (617) 565-3420

    Region 2 (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands) Building 5 2890 Woodbridge Avenue Edison, NJ 08837-3679 (908) 321-6671

    Region 3 (Delaware, Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia) 841 Chestnut Building Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215) 597-9800

    Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee) 345 Courtland Street, NE Atlanta, GA 30365 (404) 347-4727

    Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin) 77 West Jackson Boulevard Chicago, IL 60604-3590 (312) 886-6003

    Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas) First Interstate Bank Tower 1445 Ross Avenue, 12th Floor, Suite 1200 Dallas, TX 75202-2733 (214) 665-7244

    Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) 726 Minnesota Avenue Kansas City, KS 66101 (913) 551-7020

    Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming) 999 18th Street, Suite 500 Denver, CO 80202-2405 (303) 293-1603

    Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada) 75 Hawthorne Street San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 744-1124

    Region 10 (Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska) 1200 Sixth Avenue Seattle, WA 98101 (206) 553-1200


    Eastern Regional Center 6 World Trade Center Vesey Street, Room 350 New York, NY 10048 (212) 466-1612

    Central Regional Center 230 South Dearborn Street Room 2944 Chicago, IL 60604-1601 (312) 353-8260

    Western Regional Center 600 Harrison Street, Room 245 San Francisco, CA 94107 (415) 744-2966

    Or contact the National Lead Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD or the EPA.