Children and Lead Paint

It is a parent’s worst nightmare. Your child rushed to the Emergency Room with a sudden illness. Sadly, this ailment can kill, taking the lives of dozens of children annually – and the cause may be lurking within the very walls of your own home. According to Bruce Newman, Director US Lead Training Institute the health effects of lead poisoning, particularly in children span the range of everything from stomach aches to fussiness and irritability to Attention deficit disorder. There are approximately 3 million children across the united states that are currently lead poisoned according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

In almost all of these cases the source of the lead poisoning is traced to the ingestion of lead dust from deteriorating paint. Although the use of lead based paint was outlawed in 1978, its extensive use prior to that has left an estimated 57 million household’s nation wide with some degree of hazardous contamination. That number represents single family homes, apartments, co-ops and condominiums, and not just lower income urban housing, as it’s commonly believed. Lead is also present in a high percentage of childcare facilities, historical properties, and many industrial and commercial buildings. Bruce Newman explains that “lead based paint was primarily used because of the strength and durability of it. It is very long lasting, in some of the historic properties in many cities around the country you can find many many layers of lead based paint and some of the layers of paint are actually 100 years old or more, it’s a very tough durable material that works very well, but unfortunately when it begins to deteriorate in the environment and turn into lead dust it creates health problems”.

The only way to accurately determine the amount of lead in a building is through an on site evaluation by licensed state certified inspectors. Technician Brian Clark has been testing lead levels in properties for the past 6 years. He describes the process.

“We come in and look at the condition of the paint anything that’s chipping, flaking, peeling, we go ahead and do dust wipe samples to check the level of dust in the home – we take inventory room by room determining what components we are going to test and not test, sheets are filled out, we go ahead and test the home with a XRF, an X-ray Fluorescent Instrument, which measures the paint level in each separate component that we test, it tells us whether or not there is high levels of lead, low levels of lead or what’s there or not there.”

If harmful levels are detected, a Lead Abatement or Hazard Reduction procedure is required. The abatement process can include wet scraping of exterior walls that are then primed and repainted with lead free paint. Inside windows are replaced striping any components like sills, or trim. Walls found to contain lead are encapsulated. At that point it is up to the Department of Health to give approval for a final clean up and perform final clearance testing.

For abatement specialists like Brian, the job can be rewarding and gut wrenching “âÂ?¦you come in and see a lot of these children in the house, they’re completely innocent, they have no idea what’s going on and they get poisoned and stuff, it almost breaks your heartâÂ?¦”

That is why the Lead Training Institute recommends that families with small children, particularly under age six have a blood test performed on the child to find out their lead level, starting in as early as six months, and probably twice a year until they reach the age of five or six. If you live in a property built before 1978 there is a good probability that there is lead based paint in your property, and the best way to determine whether its hazardous or not to your family is to have a professional state licensed inspector perform either a lead inspection or risk assessment.

The policies and procedures of the past have all too often left the present with a toxic legacy. Environmental professionals are now like detectives in a mystery novel, seeking out the mistakes of yesterday to better insure a healthy tomorrow for ourselves and our planet.

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