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I am about to sign a lease and move with my family, including a 3 mo old and 2 yr old, into a home that was built in 1944. The house is in good condition and has been repainted at least once in the last decade.

The lessors are required to inform me about the dangers of lead paint, but the house has never been tested for lead.

How much should I worry about the dangers of lead and what precautions should I take to reduce the risks? Should I have the house tested?

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Pretty much guaranteed there is lead in that house. Most sellers get away with claiming they've never tested so they don't have to inform you / abate. –  Alex Feinman May 9 '11 at 12:49
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5 Answers

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You have to actually eat, inhale, or otherwise take in lead paint for it to cause lead poisoning: it can't be absorbed through touch. So, if you find paint flaking anywhere, you should keep your children out of the room, scrape the flaking area (while wearing a mask), and repaint. Then clean the area thoroughly, especially if flecks fell on anything they are likely to stick in their mouths.

Be wary of lead paint on surfaces that may become scraped/worn easily, as that could lead to lead paint fleck/powder flying around.

If you still feel concerned, you can have the house tested. Also, be aware that US public schools are required by law to offer free lead testing in kindergarten and first grade.

Thanks to Robert for suggesting this link from the EPA on lead hazards.

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Your information is not correct. Certified professionals can inspect and determine the actual level risk, but the premise that lead paint is okay as long as you are not sitting around munching on the walls is simply incorrect. And saying that remediation is just a matter of "scraping the flaking area" is nothing short of dangerous: epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadinfo.htm#hazard. Doubly so where children are involved. –  Robert Cartaino May 7 '11 at 19:07
    
@Robert -- Interesting, I hadn't considered the idea that it could become airborne. I'll edit my answer. –  HedgeMage May 7 '11 at 21:40
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If you have the money for it, this might be the best time to get rid of the lead paint once and for all. Hire a professional. It's much easier to do before you move in, obviously.

Some states (e.g. MA) give you a tax credit toward the costs of abatement, so you should look into that too.

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The latest advice from the EPA seems to be to let the lead paint alone and to make sure there's no flaking/chipping. Complete deleading costs tons of money and even with all the precautions a lot of lead is bound to become airborne dust. –  Vitaliy May 9 '11 at 16:52
    
The professional may not remove the paint; they will advise you about what needs to be done to each surface, whether it's containment, removal, or mitigation. –  Alex Feinman May 9 '11 at 17:28
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Move to the UK, as Lead paint does not give many real problems in the UK unless you are removing it with a sander or hot air stripper. Or it may just be that in the USA a lot of people make lots of money by offering testing services etc.

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There's no doubt lead is a potentially dangerous metal, but I second Walker's comment. Kids just a few decades ago, were exposed to much more lead(with lead paint and plumbing everywhere, and especially lead in gasoline) and it seems to me that they turned out just fine. People need to keep their heads cool and stop falling for media induced hysteria about every little thing that will supposedly harm their children. Here's some humorous on topic observations: oldtimer.wordpress.com/2007/12/20/… –  Vitaliy May 9 '11 at 20:27
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You can get home test kits at most hardware stores ... you scratch up the paint a little bit, and put some chemical on the little indicator strip, and it'll change color of lead is present.

One of the big things I'd look at is if or when the windows were replaced; as the original wooden windows will be grinding the paint, even if there's a layer of paint over it, you'll get dust there, which can become airbrone. The best remediation would be to change out the windows entirely, which would then give you better insulation, too.

Your next most likely place to find it is doors and door frame, and on the trim; it's not as common on walls, although it's still possible to be on walls. Again, the easiest remediation is wholesale replacement; You should not sand the areas for fear of it getting airborne, then being trapped in the carpet, etc.

And like Karl said -- most home inspectors will recommend what needs to be done (although, they might not tell you who to use, so they don't seem biased), but when I bought my home in Maryland, lead paint was not one of the inspections that was performed; it might've been part of a different inspection package.

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I used to think it was being overprotective to worry about kids eating paint, but I've caught mine doing it more than once, and not in areas that were already peeling or flaking. Anyplace they can get their teeth on, like corners, window sills, or molding, I would seriously consider completely stripping down and/or replacing, especially in areas where they are often unsupervised, like bedrooms or play areas.

As for how to do it safely, I have no idea, but really that part's off topic for this site. Personally, I make a practice of hiring a qualified home inspector before moving in somewhere, so I would ask him.

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stripping is not recommended, and is actually prohibited in certain jurisdictions. stripping results in particulates, which circulate and get stuck in cracks, cervices and carpeting. –  longneck May 9 '11 at 13:04
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