Lead Testing: 5 Ways to Check
If you own an older home or considering purchasing one, you should be aware of possible lead-based products. While lead is very rarely used in production anymore, paints and materials containing lead still exist in older homes. Prior to 1978, the use of lead was more prevalent because the risks were unknown. However, in 1978, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP). This rule enacted the policy that any type of renovation, repair, or painting project in homes built prior to 1978 must be certified by the EPA. Testing for lead beforehand and taking precautions to avoid disturbing lead particles will help ensure the safety of you and your loved ones. Here are 5 ways to check for the presence of lead.
#1 At-HomeLead Test Kit
Even though lead-based products have been banned for several years, many homes still contain lead paint. While it may be covered with newer paint, if dust particles are stirred up, it can still pose a danger. Fortunately, lead test kits make it possible to check your home. Numerous kits are on the market, however, the EPA recognizes the following test kits as compliant with the RRP Rule: 3M™ LeadCheck™, D-Lead®, and the State of Massachusetts. The State of Massachusetts test is designed to test plaster and drywall, and the other two test materials include plaster, wood, and drywall. Although consumers can purchase these tests directly, the EPA advises hiring a licensed lead inspector because the testing process may result in lead exposure.
#2 Water Sample Testing
The water supply to your home may also contain trace amounts of lead. This is because lead plumbing materials such as pipes, fittings, faucets, and solder were commonplace. Over time, these materials corrode, and lead particles are released into the water source. According to the EPA, this is especially true when the water has a high acid or low mineral content and sits in the pipes for extended periods of time. Further, many of the public water supply systems use sanitization chemicals that corrode older pipes. Most homes built before 1986 likely have lead plumbing. Even “newer” homes built through 2013 were legally allowed to have “lead-free” pipes that actually contained as much as 8% lead. That limit was reduced to 0.25% as of January 1, 2014.
Public water suppliers will often provide customers with a water quality test, upon request. Another option is to purchase a lead testing kit where you collect a water sample and send it to a certified lab for testing. Some labs will send a trained technician out to collect the water sample.
#3 Dust Sample Testing
Dust from lead-based products can exist on surfaces too. For example, if you have an older home and raise/lower windows frequently, that friction will create fine dust on window frames that may be from lead-based paint. It’s also possible for the soil to be contaminated with lead, which can be tracked into your home. Dust testing kits can be used to collect samples from windowsill and floor surfaces, and sent to a lab for testing.
#4 Lead Inspection
Consider hiring a professional lead inspector to evaluate your home. These experts are trained to identify lead contaminates and will provide you with a detailed report of concerns and the condition of lead-based surfaces.
#5 Professional Risk Assessment
Risk assessments are more comprehensive than lead-based inspections. An on-site investigation determines the type, severity, presence, and location of any lead hazards. During the assessment, suggestions will be provided for controlling these risks. Both the lead inspection and risk assessment must be performed by certified experts.
Eliminating Lead Exposure in Your Home
If you find lead in your home, it’s important to eliminate the risk of exposure. There are two methods for doing this.
Encapsulation: The fastest way is to paint any lead-contaminated surfaces with an encapsulant product designed to contain the lead particles. However, this method requires an annual lead inspection.
Abatement: The more permanent option is to have any lead removed by certified abatement contractors. While this method costs more upfront, it is a one-time process.
Understanding the Dangers of Lead
Lead is everywhere, so avoiding it entirely is impossible. However, by eliminating the various sources in your home, you reduce exposure and long-term health risks. Such risks include:
High blood pressure
Brain, kidney, and nervous system damage
Learning and developmental issues in children
Why You Should Test for Lead
Lead exposure is dangerous, which is why you should have your home tested. You can start with the at-home test kits, but you'll get the best results and recommendations when you hire a licensed professional.