How to Minimize the Health Risks of Lead Paint

Lead-based paint was banned in the U.S., in 1978, for a very good reason: It can cause significant harm. During home painting project, you’re unlikely to encounter a more dangerous substance. As you might expect, houses constructed prior to 1978 may include some lead primer or paint. It’s possible to have the paint in your home analyzed to determine its lead content. This step is particularly important if peeling has started to occur. Your main goal should be keeping lead-based paint from affecting your well-being, or that of your family.

Quite a few problems can arise in the human body as a result of lead exposure. The muscles, reproductive system, blood-iron level, and vision can all be damaged, as can the kidneys and nervous system. Young children and fetuses are more susceptible than adults, due not only to their size but also to their critical stage of development. Left unchecked, a buildup of lead in the system can cause developmental disabilities and reduce people’s ability to move normally.

Risk assessors and certified inspectors are both qualified to test paint for lead content. The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Lead Information Center (; 1800-424-LEAD) can provide more details on the subject.

Other Harmful Chemicals in Paint

Though paint manufacturers are using them less and less, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a significant part of paint produced before the anti-VOC movement took hold. Minimizing the harm these substances cause is no more complicated, however, than following lead-safety procedures. The EPA suggests several preventive measures:

Before Starting the Project:
Use plastic sheeting to confine dust and debris to the project site. During the renovation work, access to the bedroom, kitchen, and/or bathroom may be limited, so plan accordingly. Consider how best to keep lead dust and other harmful substances from harming your pets.

While Doing the Project:

Try to create as little hazardous dust and fumes as possible. Neither you nor a professional renovator should use fire to remove paint; employ forceful removal techniques such as sanding or blasting without a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum, as well as a shroud; raise a heat gun’s temperature above 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t leave debris and dust lying around; keep the work area tidy. And work only with companies that have earned lead-safety certification.

Lead-based paint is serious business; treat it with the respect it warrants. Proceeding without caution can cause physical harm, immediately and down the line, to you and the people you care about.