Monday, November 2, 2015

I Unknowingly Exposed My Children To Lead - Could You Be Doing The Same Thing?

Considering most parents today were young (or not even born) when lead based paints were banned in household paint in the United States in 1978, it comes to the surprise of many that childhood lead poisoning is still a big problem.

The culprit?  It is still the paint (although cheap toys and other items made overseas could expose you to lead).   There are millions of homes and buildings built before 1978 that still contain lead paint. 

The main misconception?  Most people don’t worry about lead paint because they believe that their child needs to chew directly on lead based paint (or paint chips) to be affected by it.

The truth?   Unbeknown to most parents and educators, the most common cause of lead poisoning today actually comes from dust children breathe in, or touch and then ingest, while in their own house or school.  So when paint starts peeling or chipping, if that paint has lead or if the old paint under it has lead, the lead seeps out and contaminates dust around it. 

Why is lead dangerous?
According to the EPA (even low levels of) “Lead can cause decreases in IQ, nervous system damage and behavioral changes...”  Academic achievement and the ability to pay attention are all affected -   and the effects of lead exposure cannot be reversed or corrected.

While lead exposure is bad for everyone, it has a defining effect on children under the age of 6, causing permanent learning disabilities and lower IQ. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  specifies that there is no safe blood lead level for children.
It is so serious that the Environmental Protection Agency goes as far as to state that “Every individual exposed to lead could mean one less child going to college or one more violent crime next door."

Those are big ramifications. 

Our Story
A year ago we moved into a charming home in Santa Monica, California.   As most of the houses in our neighborhood, the original house was built in the 1940’s.  Even though it has been updated and parts renovated with fresh paint on most of the house, I became worried when I saw chipped and peeling paint on our outside windowsills.  Long, long story short?   We had chipping paint that was exposing my two young kids to older lead paint; on the outside windowsills, some door frames and a crack in the playroom ceiling.  The inside door frames didn't even look very chipped.  Freak out.

I later learned that it is actually not uncommon for this situation to arise... in fact, if you live in a house (or if your child goes to a school) that was built before 1978 you can bet there is lead paint in your house.  You don’t have to worry if the walls have been repainted in recent years and are in good condition; the new paint forms a protective barrier that prevents the lead in the old paint to enter the environment.  However at the first sign of chipping, you should take action.  The sooner the better. 

  • Step One:  Do a home lead test.   Companies like 3M sell at home lead test kits which are easy to use and will quickly quickly change color if lead is present.  If your paint is chipping and you live in a house built before 1978 chances are this test will come out positive.  Here is a brief video of me doing my initial at home lead test.  We bought the 3M Lead Home Test Kit - 
  • LeadCheck LC-2SDC Disposable Non-Staining Lead Detection Swabs, 2 Per Pack
  •  it was super easy!   

If your home test is positive (like ours) s:

  • Step Two: Get your home tested by a professional. If your home was built before 1978 and the
    Getting our home inspected for lead
    chipping is severe, even if your home kit came out negative, I would call in the professionals. Find an inspector that has been trained and certified by the EPA or similar state certification to get your home checked for lead hazards. It is really important to mention that painting over chipped paint is not only not a solution, but could be quite toxic to you, your children and any pets you have. Hiring a professional really is the best and safest option. The problem is that when you have chipped or peeling lead based paint, removing it can lead to more toxic dust and fume exposure.
  • Step 3: Simultaneously, have your child tested for lead exposure.  This is easily done by asking your pediatrician to do a blood test   (both my children came out negative, thank goodness!) 
  • Step Four: If the professionals find exposed lead paint in your house they will recommend the best way to eliminate your exposure.  Many companies will  encapsulate the lead paint or recommend replacing in the case of an old window or door.   The process takes some time

  • - Children and pregnant women should stay out of the work area until clean-up is complete. 
  • - The workers will  seal off the work area from the rest of the house, including any heating or ventilation ducts, using heavy plastic sheets.
  • - EVERYTHING in the room (furniture, rugs, carpets, floors, bedding, drapes, dishware, food, toys, etc.) must be removed, or covered with TWO sheets of special thick plastic and all the seams taped. Plastic used to cover the floor should be secured to the wall or baseboard with duct tape.
  • - Workers will wear protective clothing (disposable coveralls, shoes, hair covering, goggles and a respirator that filter lead dust and fumes). Simple paper or fabric dust masks will NOT protect a worker from lead dust.
  • - The area being worked on will be sealed off and a special air filter will make sure dust particles do not make it to the rest of the house.When finished, the workers will clean up carefully. Before leaving the work area, they should dispose of their coveralls, and remove the dust from their clothes with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filtered vacuum cleaner. 

If this happened to us it can happen to anyone. Luckily, our children's blood test came back negative, but had we allowed the interior paint to chip more it could have been a different outcome.  Lead exposure for young kids is really serious and should always be taken seriously.  If you have chipped paint at home (and live in a home built before 1978 or live outside of the US) I encourage you to take action promptly.   

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