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Lead Paint Exposure

Lead Paint Exposure

Lead-based paint was widely used till 1978. This article provides information regarding the effects of exposure to lead paint.
Kevin Mathias
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Lead is a highly-toxic metal that occurs naturally in the earth. It causes innumerable health problems when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. The main problem with lead is that it is not biodegradable. It just shifts from one place to the other, persisting in the air, water, soil, and in most homes.
Why Was Lead Used in Paints?
Lead was added to paints as a pigment because of the following properties it gave to the paint:
  • Brighter, fresher appearance of the paint
  • Moisture resistant, preventing metals from corrosion and wood from deteriorating
  • Increased paint durability
  • Made the paint dry quickly
The ill effects of lead exposure were known right from the early 1900s, but not much was done to contain it. After the increase in evidence of its toxicity and its association with many ailments, lead was banned in paints meant for residential use in 1978.
How Does Exposure to Lead Paint Occur?
Most of the houses built before 1978 still contain lead-based paint. When this paint begins deteriorating and flaking off, it releases lead particles in the air that settle on the ground. These particles are usually microscopic and not detectable with the naked eye. Surfaces where friction takes place will release maximum lead. These could include windows and window sills, doors and door frames, and staircases and railings.
While getting the house painted, the old paint is usually scraped off using a variety of methods. No matter what method you use, if the paint on your walls is lead-based, then lead will get released into the air and cause lead paint exposure. The same holds true for exterior paint, paint on wood, and metal in your home.
Who is at Maximum Risk?
Small children till the age of 6 are at the maximum risk and are most affected by this metal exposure. This is because lead when ingested, gets absorbed more easily into their bodies and will cause more harm and damage than to an adult.
Small children will usually eat small flakes of paint that might peel off the walls. They also tend to play on the floor and suck their thumbs, or put their fingers in their mouth - all sure ways of ingesting lead that may have settled on the ground and onto their hands. It takes a very small amount of lead to cause serious damage to small children.
Also, adults who are involved in painting the house are at risk. The risk occurs when lead containing paint is scraped off the walls, wood, or metal and gets disbursed all over the house.
What are the Ill-Effects/Diseases Caused?
Exposure to lead-base paint, even in small quantities, can have the following effects on children:
  • Retarded mental development
  • Retarded physical development
  • Behavioral problems
  • Learning disorders
  • Drastically reduced attention span
The following symptoms can be observed in adults (some of these symptoms also occur in children):
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Over average irritability
  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Damage to the brain
  • Damage to the nerves
  • Fetal development in pregnant women is abnormal and can also lead to fetal death if the exposure is severe.
How to Avoid Exposure to Lead-Based Paint?
1. If your house was built prior to 1978, chances are the paint all around contains lead. Get samples of paint from all over the house tested for lead content by a competent authority.
2. If the tests are positive, you have two options. Repaint the house putting fresh coats over the old lead-based one, or get rid of the old lead-based paint and then repaint the entire house.
3. The first option is usually not advised because the danger of lead exposure still exists; if not immediately, then in the near future.
4. The second option of getting rid of all the old lead containing paint is the preferred but more risky option. If you decide on this option, it is better to get trained professionals who will do the job of safely removing the hazardous paint and getting the house repainted. If it is difficult to find someone specially trained in lead paint removal, you can check with a trained asbestos removal specialist.
What Precautions Should Be Taken During Paint Removal?
Whether you are removing the old paint yourself or if it is done by a professional, certain precautions must be taken:
  • Remove everything from the room.
  • Seal the room from the rest of the house.
  • Turn off all air heating/conditioning.
  • Wear only approved protective clothing, glasses, and shoes.
  • Use only HEPA certified respirators.
  • Shift all children, pregnant ladies, and elderly to some other location until the entire job is complete.
  • Dry scraping and dry sanding should never be done. Wet the entire surface thoroughly with water and gently scrape off the old paint.
  • Collect all the debris in sealable disposable plastic bags.
  • After the work if over, use a HEPA certified vacuum cleaner to clean up the settled debris.
  • Dispose off all clothing used during the procedure in an appropriate manner.
  • Never eat, drink, or smoke in the room (preferably in the house) until the entire job is over.
  • Check for rules in your state on disposing lead-based paint debris and follow them strictly.
Doing all this yourself could be a health hazard to you and your family. Even though expensive, it is much better to have a professional take care of removing lead-based paint from your entire house. Since they are well-trained, they will make sure that neither they nor you or your family members are exposed to lead during or after their job is over. They will also take care of proper disposal of the debris as per the rules and regulations prevalent in your state.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.