What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that interferes with the development and functioning of almost all body organs, particularly the kidneys, red blood cells, and central nervous system. In young children, lead retards the development of the central nervous system and brain.

High levels of lead exposure can result in coma, convulsions, and death. At low levels, lead can cause reduced IQ, reading and learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and behavioral problems. As a result, childhood lead poisoning is associated with lower educational achievement, higher rates of high school drop-out and increased behavioral problems. In the long run, children who are lead poisoned may be less likely to become positive contributors to our communities and our economy.

What causes lead poisoning?
In Children — 80% of childhood lead poisoning occurs at home. Many homeowners are not aware of the hazards associated with lead-based paint and unknowingly poison their own children by not following safe work practices during renovation or by not attending to deteriorating and/or chipping paint.

While it is true that many kids get poisoned by eating paint chips — they taste sweet — most children are poisoned by invisible lead dust created when lead paint deteriorates from age, is exposed to the elements, is damaged by water, is exposed by friction (such as the opening and closing of a door or window), or during home renovation.

In Adults — Most adults are poisoned at work. There are laws that seek to prevent this, but many are not yet widely enforced. Any employee who may be exposed to lead in any amount, should have personal air sampling done.

How big is the problem?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood lead poisoning is the number one environmental health risk facing children in industrialized countries today. In the United States, more than three million children age six and younger– that’s one out of every six children — already have toxic levels of lead in their bodies.

How much lead does it take to get lead poisoning?
The amount is incredibly small: 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

Here’s a way to visualize what that means.

  • A deciliter is about 1/2 of a cup.
  • A packet of sweetener (either the pink or blue) is one gram.
  • There are one million micrograms in a gram.
  • Pretend to divide the granules from one packet into one million piles.
  • Now, discard 999,990 of those “piles.”
  • Take the remaining 10 piles and mix them into half a cup of liquid.  Now you have 10 micrograms per deciliter.

How does lead affect children?

Children’s Reactions to Lead (micrograms per deci-liter – ug/dL)
Blood Lead Level Possible Health Effects
10 ug/dL Slight loss in IQ; hearing and growth problems
20 ug/dL Moderate loss in IQ; hyperactivity; poor attention span; difficulty learning; language and speech problems; slower reflexes
40 ug dL Poor bone and muscle development; clumsiness; lack of coordination; early anemia; fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen and iron; tiredness; drowsiness
50 ug/dL Stomach aches and cramps; anemia; destruction of red blood cells; brain damage
100 ug/dL & above Swelling of the brain; seizures; coma; deathSource: ATSDR; California Health Dept 1993
How does lead affect adults?
Adult Reactions to Lead (micrograms per deci-liter –ug/dL)
Blood Lead Level Possible Health Effects
15 ug/dL Increase in blood pressure; harmful effects on fetus; joint and muscle aches
25 ug/dL Reproductive problems
40 ug/dL Kidney damage; damage to blood formation
60 ug/dL Anemia; nerve damage; constipation; stomach pains; irritability and fatigue; memory and concentration problems; clumsiness; drowsiness and sleep problems
80 ug/dL & above Blue line on gums; uncontrollable shaking of hands; wrist and foot drop; hallucinations; brain damage; coma; deathSource: ATSDR; California Health Dept 1993
Source: ATSDR; California Health Dept 1993

Will a blood lead test tell me if I was exposed to lead as a child?
Lead stays in the blood about 3 weeks. Most is naturally eliminated and the remaining lead goes into the bones. A blood test will only show recent exposure.

Why is remodeling an older home considered such a big risk?
Most older homes contain lead-based paint.  If proper precautions are not taken, remodeling or renovating an older home (pre-1978) can generate a very large amount of lead dust which can be inhaled (even through a non-HEPA face mask).  As mentioned above, it takes very little lead in the system to cause poisoning.  Even small jobs done during routine maintenance — like painting — can generate lead dust.

Do many homes have lead-based paint hazards?

It is estimated that at least 19 million homes have lead-based paint hazards, of which at least 4 million have young children under age the age of six living in them. (HUD 1990; EPA 1995).

Iowa ranks fourth among states for the percentage of homes built before 1940, so there are many buildings that still have lead paint on them. The rate of lead poisoning in Polk County is high because 60% of homes in Polk County were built before 1978, the year lead paint was outlawed.

What do home and property owners need to do to comply with the Federal disclosure laws?
Each time a home or apartment built before 1978 (the year lead was banned in residential paint) is sold or rented, owners are required to give sellers or renters a copy of the EPA pamphlet Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home and disclose any known lead or lead hazards on the property.

If there’s lead in my home, do I have to remove it?
Usually, no.  In most states there are no laws that require you to remove lead paint. (Check with state and local authorities to see if there are more stringent laws where you live.)  But, you do have “manage it” using approved, lead safe work practices when performing maintenance or repairs.

What’s the difference between lead-safe and lead-free?
A lead-free home or apartment has no lead (or lead hazards). A lead-safe home or apartment has no lead hazards, but it may still contain lead paint.  

Will having a lead-safe home increase its value?
With the exception of some areas in the Northeast, the lead issue is new to most people. Most consumers know little about lead poisoning. However, this will change over the new few years, and create a demand for housing that is free of lead hazards. Home values will start to increase:

1) as public awareness about lead poisoning increases;
2) as mortgage markets require inspections, assessments & lead hazard control plans;
3) as insurance companies develop policies about lead; and,
4) when lawsuits increase across the United States.

Can I use a do-it-yourself testing kit?
You can, but you should know that HUD and EPA do not permit the use of chemical spot test kits as an official evaluation method. (Evaluations must be performed by EPA certified and state licensed lead inspectors and risk assessors.) The EPA says these kits may give unreliable results. One of the reasons is that lead paint is usually buried under layers of newer non-lead paint. The do-it-yourself testing kits often are unable to measure deeply buried paint layers. However, the kits are a good way to test pottery, toys and other household items for lead.

Where can lead-based paint be found?

Lead-based paint can be on walls, ceilings, woodwork, windows, and sometimes on floors. When lead-based paint on these surfaces is broken, sanded, or scraped, it breaks into tiny, sometimes invisible, pieces that your child may swallow or inhale. Even small repair and renovation jobs, including repainting projects, can create enough lead dust and chips to harm your child.

What can I do to minimize the risk of lead poisoning in my home?

  • Be aware of the risks – if your home was built before 1978, determine if lead is present by having a certified lead inspector assess your home.
  • Get your children tested (a simple blood test).
  • Remove, minimize and manage lead hazards discovered in your home.

BEFORE you disturb a surface with old paint on it, you should contact Iowa Lead Safety or another certified inspector to schedule an inspection for your home.  If lead-based paint is found in your home, have the repair or renovation done by a contractor who has been trained to protect your family and home from exposure to lead dust and chips.

Before you perform any of the following activities, which can produce paint dust and chips, in areas of your home where you know or suspect there is lead-based paint, read the EPA brochure “Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home

  • scraping, sanding, or using a heat gun on painted surfaces before repainting
  • making holes in walls to get at pipes or install electrical outlets
  • tearing out walls,
  • repeatedly bumping furniture or other objects into painted walls
  • unnecessarily opening and closing windows with painted frames and sills.

You should have a lead inspection if you plan to renovate, or plan to remove lead paint (to make the property lead-free), or if a property will be demolished.

Who can test for presence of lead in properties?

Testing to determine the presence of lead in paint, dust, water, and soil is best done by trained professionals. Iowa requires lead inspectors to be state-certified.  Certified inspectors in Iowa have an i.d. card that you should ask to see before the inspection begins.

What is involved in lead inspection?
The most cost effective and comprehensive way is to use an XRF portable machine. XRF stands for x-ray fluorescence. It can see through a surface and tell if lead paint is underneath.

Another way is to take paint chip samples and send them to a laboratory. The problem is that doing so leaves holes in the walls. The other problem is cost. Analysis of one sample usually costs about $20. Because there may be hundreds of samples taken in a house, the cumulative cost can be quite high.

What does a professional lead inspection cost?
Lead inspections performed by Iowa Lead Safety with an XRF analyzer typically cost between $400-$500 for an average size single family detached home.  Pricing can vary depending on how large the home is.  Our inspectors follow HUD guidelines, even if the property is not part of the HUD system.  These guidelines require components (windows, door frames, etc) in each room to be tested.  Additionally, each of your home’s painted surfaces, both inside and outside, should be tested separately.

A typical three bedroom/2 bath house probably has at least 10 rooms/areas that have to be tested. Realistically, you’re looking at 150 to 300 separate XRF readings.  At minimum, this can take 2 – 4 hours.  The comprehensive, written report takes another 1-2 hours.

Click here to schedule your lead inspection with Iowa Lead Safety.