Most people have heard of lead. It can be useful to make car batteries, pigments, weights, and radiation defense. Most people also know that lead is not something you want in your body. But did you know that lead-based paint and other materials were used in home construction for decades, and can put you at risk of lead poisoning?
Deteriorating lead-based materials in older homes can result in the release of lead dust – this dust can also be tracked in from outside or carried in on clothing. When lead dust exists on the surfaces in your home or in the air you breathe, it has the potential to cause serious health problems, especially in children.
Keep reading to learn how to identify lead dust and what to do if you find it.
Identifying Lead Dust
Finding lead dust in your home is not unusual, and lead-based paint is the most common culprit. That’s partly because so many homes have it. In fact, any home built during the 1970s or before is likely to contain lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government broadly banned the use of lead-containing paint in residential construction. However, many homes built before the ban are still standing, so lead dust is a concern for many homeowners.
Knowing how to identify lead dust is imperative to protecting your family’s health. Since lead dust is often created during home renovations, there are also governmental rules and regulations to protect workers and families when it comes to remodeling older homes.
Lead in household dust can result from a variety of sources, including the following:
- Indoor surfaces that bump or rub against other objects, such as window frames or doors
- Deteriorating lead paint on any surface in the home
- Home repair or remodel activities
- Lead-contaminated soil that’s tracked indoors from outside environments
- Clothing worn at a job site
Unfortunately, there’s no way to smell or taste lead and it’s not visible to the naked eye. Getting a professional lead dust analysis from an accredited lab is the best and most reliable way to determine if harmful particles are present in your home.
Testing for Lead Dust
Lead-Testing Rules & Regulations
Because of the health risks, there are a number of federal and local regulations and guidelines that home remodelers and contractors are required to follow in order to protect homeowners and families, as well as the safety of their own workers.
For example, the EPA’s Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) guidelines state that contractors must test for lead-based particles in paint or other materials before conducting renovations or remodels. OSHA also maintains strict regulatory standards for protecting workers from lead exposure while on the job.
If you’re planning any project that may disrupt lead-containing material, such as removing walls, repainting surfaces, or repairing damage, you should have the area tested for lead to protect your safety – and to comply with government regulations.
Professional Lead Testing
By far the most swift, safe, and accurate way to identify lead in your home is to have a sample tested at an accredited lab. Many labs allow you to collect your own sample, which involves cutting a section of paint or using a wipe to collect dust, and mailing it in or dropping it off for testing. You can also have a professional come in and collect your sample for you. You also have the option to use a DIY lead-testing kit, as long as you aren’t having professional renovations done. Just be sure to use a kit recognized by the EPA.
We recommend having your paint or dust professionally tested in the following situations:
- If you’ve tested the paint or dust yourself but aren’t sure you trust the results
- If you notice any signs or symptoms of lead exposure in yourself or a member of your household
- If you’re planning to paint over, renovate, demolish, or otherwise disrupt any paint in a home built before 1978
One of the nice things about professional testing is that you can often have the same sample tested for multiple toxic contaminants at once. For example, if you’re concerned about both lead and asbestos, you can collect and submit one sample and have it tested for both on the same day.
Removing Lead Dust
If you discover lead-containing dust in your home, it’s vital that you remove it as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible in order to avoid the adverse health effects of breathing it in.
First and foremost, you need to identify and remove the source of the lead dust in your home. Is it being caused by chipping paint? Was it brought in on clothing worn at a job site? It’s important to get to the root cause of the dust to remedy it and ensure you don’t continue to gather more lead dust in your home.
How do you remove lead dust from surfaces?
The best way to clean up lead dust from surfaces such as window sills, doors, walls, and floors is by wet washing them with household detergent and water. It’s important to do this as carefully and methodically as possible to make sure you actually remove the dust that’s settled completely, as opposed to simply kicking it up back into the air. Work carefully and purposefully and make sure you wear protective gear and clothing.
Disposing of lead dust and other lead-containing materials is regulated in most states. In Oregon, all homeowner- and contractor-generated waste from activities in homes should be disposed of at a DEQ-permitted solid waste landfill.
How do you remove lead dust from clothes?
Any clothing that has been exposed to lead dust on a job site or in your home should be put directly into the washing machine. Use detergent to remove the lead from the clothing; don’t mix any other items in with those that have been exposed to lead. Once you’ve washed the clothes, run the washing machine through another wash cycle while it’s completely empty to remove any remaining lead dust.
How do you get rid of lead dust in the air?
Unfortunately, your typical household vacuum cleaner or air filter won’t collect small enough particles to clean air that contains lead dust. In fact, a regular vacuum cleaner can actually kick up dust that’s settled on the floor back into the air, increasing your risk of inhaling it.
The best way to remove lead dust from the air is to use a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum. These air vacuums have special filters that capture small pieces of lead.
Could there be lead dust in your air or on surfaces in your home?
At JSE Labs, we’re dedicated to delivering you accurate results as quickly and efficiently as possible. We offer same-day testing, results, and analysis, and our methods can detect even the smallest amounts of lead with just one sample.