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In Older Houses, a Trove of Lead Risks

The EPA assumes that all homes built before a 1978 lead-paint ban contain the toxic metal that can harm brains, kidneys and other organs when ingested or inhaled.

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, nationwide, close to 90% of homes constructed before 1940 likely contain lead, which was a common paint additive.

In fact, any home built prior to 1978 – before the complete legal ban on lead-based paint – is presumed to contain the element, which accumulates in the bones and harms the brain, kidneys and other organs when ingested or breathed in. Lead poisoning can permanently impair a child’s physical, behavioral and mental health.

Federal law requires buyers of pre-1978 houses to be given any known information about lead and be granted the opportunity to conduct an inspection. Government agencies in cities across the United States are implementing lead safety initiatives, some with federal funding, but owners of pre-1978 homes who worry about lead are encouraged to inspect for it.

“The rule of thumb that we propose is in an older home, if the finishes look good, test for lead,” says Erik Listou, industry instructor and co-founder of the Living In Place Institute. “Because lead is what kept them intact. It is metal; it doesn’t degrade.”

The inspection should be performed by an EPA-certified lead inspector with an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) tool, which detects lead in multiple layers of interior and exterior paint and on any stained features such as cabinets, doors and windows.

In June, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reduced lead contamination standards from 40 to 10 micrograms, and from 250 to 100 micrograms of lead per square foot for floors and window sills, respectively.

Specialized cleaning is generally the most common, easiest and cheapest method to address lead hazards. Other interim controls – or temporary measures that demand periodic monitoring – include wet scraping of deteriorating paint and the blanketing of lead-tainted soil from an abraded exterior with mulch or gravel. Other options include encapsulation and enclosure.

While total removal is preferable, it’s not cheap. The cost can run from $3,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the amount of lead, the size of the affected area, and the kind of remedy, among other variables.

Beyond expense, removal may not even be feasible in historic neighborhoods due to rules governing renovations.

Source: Washington Post (09/26/19) Williams, Dima

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