In 1992, the Environment Protection Agency passed a rule requiring anyone who was selling or renting a house built before 1978 to provide information about the hazards of lead paint to the buyer or tenant.
Not only is the seller or landlord required to hand over the pamphlet, but they must obtain “a written acknowledgment of its receipt from the buyer or tenant.” And, sellers and landlords must disclose to buyers and tenants whether there is any lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards on the property.
Although the rule took effect in 1996, compliance hasn’t exactly been stellar. Hoping to make more landlords and sellers aware of the disclosure requirements with the lead-paint rule, the EPA has begun a nationwide inspection program to figure out who is not providing the mandatory disclosures, according to John Connell, who heads up the Toxics Program Section of the EPA.
Why is the government cracking down? If you ingest lead through paint chips, dust particles, through contaminated soil, or in the water you drink, it can cause serious health problems, particularly in children.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems such as hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.
In adults, lead can cause complications with a pregnancy, reproductive problems in men and women, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems and muscle and joint pain.
If you’re buying an existing home or renting in an older building, your seller or landlord should give you a lead-paint disclosure before you close on the purchase or sign the lease.
According to the EPA, three-quarters of all housing built before 1978 contains at least some lead-based paint. If you’re going to buy a house, condo, or townhouse built before 1978, you are supposed to be given 10 days in which to conduct a lead test. If you’re renting, the rule does not require the landlord to permit you to test for a lead-based hazard.
And if the test turns up evidence of a lead-based hazard? Well, this is where the rule fails: Even if lead is found to be present, either in the paint, air or water, neither sellers nor landlords are required to remove it.
Although the rule requires sellers to disclose whether there is a lead-based hazard on the property, the truth is many American homeowners simply don’t know. Americans move an average of every 5 to 7 years. Even if the home was built before 1978, they probably haven’t lived there that long. They don’t know whether there’s lead paint on the walls or leaded water in the faucet.
That’s why it’s up to home buyers and renters to keep their children, and themselves, safe. According to the EPA, if you follow a few simple steps, you should be able to protect your family from lead hazards.
Start by having young children tested for lead, even if they seem healthy. A good pediatrician will ask you how old is the home in which you live and may urge you to take a lead test if your home was built before 1978.
Lead-based paint isn’t a problem if the paint is in good condition. Cracked and chipping paint can be a problem, as children could pick up a paint chip and put it in their mouths. If you’re doing repainting, don’t sand painted surfaces like window trim unless you’re wearing goggles and a mask with a high-level filter. Your children should be out of the home until you’re completely finished with the project, including the clean-up.
Check your home regularly for lead. Inexpensive lead-based hazard tests are sold in many home improvement and drug stores. One, which looks like a cigarette, can be wiped over window treatments, walls, or the floor. If lead is present, the end of the white tube turns red.
Finally, thoroughly clean all of your children’s toys, bottles, and pacifiers. Since the dirt outside your home can contain lead, wash your children’s hands and feet thoroughly and remove shoes before coming into the house.
If your home is very old, the original plumbers might have used lead to solder pipes together. Your local health department or plumber can test for lead in your water. If you think your home may have lead-soldered pipes, the EPA recommends you use only cold water for drinking and cooking, and let the cold water run for 15 to 30 seconds before using it, especially if you haven’â„¢t used the water in hours.
Finally, you may have lead on items like an older set of dishes from another country (some countries have used leaded glazes for pottery and porcelain, or lead to make crystal), old painted toys and furniture, and, of course, stained glass.
For more information on protecting your family from lead poisoning, you can call the National Lead Information Center (800-424-LEAD) or go online to EPA.gov/lead or HUD.gov. For information about lead in water, call the EPA’s safe drinking water hotline (800-426-4791. For information on lead in consumer products, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission (800-638-2772) or online at CPSC.gov.