Taking Steps to Protect your Family from Lead Exposure

By Ryan Schmit

I grew up in an older home in a small, midwestern town full of aging structures.  Like many children, my younger days were often spent exploring dusty spaces and playing in the dirt around homes that were over 100 years old.  We were surrounded by danger, yet oblivious to the potentially harmful effects of lead paint and dust.

At EPA, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the damaging health effects that lead paint can have on young children, including brain and nervous system damage, behavior and learning disorders, and many other health problems.

I often think back to my own childhood when I, my family or my friends could have very easily been victims of lead poisoning.  It’s a powerful reminder to me of the importance of EPA’s mission to protect human health. I’d like to share with you information that you can use to keep you and your family safe from lead exposure.

If you are looking at renting an apartment or house and you aren’t sure if there is lead-based paint in the building, remember that landlords are required to disclose the presence of lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards in houses built before 1978. Also, ask the landlord if they employ lead-safe certified contractors. All contractors working in older homes and apartments are required to be lead-safe certified – this ensures that any maintenance or construction work done in your house will not contaminate the air or surfaces in your house with lead dust.

If your house was built anytime before 1978 there is a chance that lead paint was used in your house and you should take the following precautions:

  • Always make sure that your walls are well maintained. If you see cracking or peeling, paint a fresh coat over the wall.
  • Keep a close eye on areas like window jambs, stairways, and trim, where paint deteriorates faster.
  • Keep in mind that as the paint breaks down over time settling into invisible dust particles, and children playing on the ground may touch their mouths and ingest the lead particles. Use any household cleaner to regularly wipe floors, walls, toys and other places where your children play to prevent exposure.

If you are in a home where you suspect your child may be at risk of exposure to lead, you should read this informational pamphlet on protecting your family from lead poisoning and this guide with step-by-step instructions to keep you and your children safe.  You can also find out if your child has elevated blood lead levels by asking your doctor to do a simple blood test.  Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.

About the author: Ryan is a Presidential Management Fellow in EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.  He began working for the Agency in 2010 after earning his law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law.