There are two answers currently saying essentially, "It's only lead. It's not a big deal."
This is bad advice in my opinion. I would describe lead as more dangerous than plutonium. Not that it is more likely to kill you. But it is more likely to cause permanent damage short of killing you or your children. Lead is particularly dangerous to children. It can cause damage in development. I would not describe it as mildly toxic. Alcohol is mildly toxic.
Plutonium 240/241 kills you by radiation. You would show symptoms. They would attempt to flush the substance out of your body. If they would succeed, you would usually recover. Because there is a certain amount of radiation that you receive regardless. The problem is just when it is excessively concentrated. So unless there are large amounts, you would usually be able to heal the damage. Because damage from radiation is expected. There are safe levels of radiation and we can detect radiation well below those levels.
There is no safe level of lead. Lead can cause damage even if there are no immediate symptoms. We measure lead exposure in parts per billion. If we can detect the lead in the bloodstream, then it is not safe. From the CDC lead FAQs:
A blood lead test is the best and most readily available way to find out if your child has been exposed to lead. Most children with lead in their blood have no obvious symptoms. Talk to your child’s health care provider about getting a blood lead test.
Your health care provider and most local health departments can test for blood lead. Many private insurance policies cover the cost of testing for blood lead. Children enrolled in Medicaid are eligible for free testing and should be tested at ages 12 and 24 months. Contact the appropriate childhood lead poisoning prevention program in your area for questions about testing for lead.
Old paint can contain up to 50% lead.
So there are two reasons to test your children for lead now:
- They've been living in a house with lead paint. Hopefully they were tested previously so if there had been a problem, you'd know.
- Right now, they may have been exposed to lead contamination due to the recent activity, which is likely to have kicked dust into the air. Note that they could have been exposed even if they weren't there. Because you were there and if you then went where the child was, you could have carried lead dust with you.
Note that the hope here is that the test will not show any lead. And that still remains possible. But you should definitely verify that by following your pediatrician's instructions. Those instructions should almost certainly include a blood test for lead. Of course, your doctor may have already tested your child for lead at twelve months (and at twenty-four months if you have a child older than that).
Now, all that said, lead is heavy. It doesn't stay in the air (although you may put it into the air when you walk through the dust). Once you clean up the dust, things will be much safer. You shouldn't worry excessively after abatement. But right now, before abatement, this is a big deal. You should get your children away from that room and preferably away from the house. The lead was much safer when it was still in paint stuck to walls. Once it became dust, the risk increased greatly.
The safest place for that lead is under an encapsulant. You shouldn't sand it down (that releases lead in the dust) unless you plan to abate afterwards. Note that if the paint was already peeling, you may have to abate. The encapsulant will hold the lead dust into the wall. You may find that it is a good idea to encapsulate even if you sand first, because some of the paint may have seeped into the wall material.
Just to reiterate a couple points that people have already made:
- A HEPA filter does not make a vacuum itself safe for lead removal. You can put a HEPA filter in anything that takes a filter. The whole vacuum has to be designed to force everything through the HEPA filter or it's not sufficient. I.e. you need a HEPA vacuum with HEPA filters. Not just a regular filtered vacuum with a HEPA filter replacing the regular filter. You should be able to find a vacuum that is lead-certified. You may prefer to rent it.
- You need a lead-respirator mask with a HEPA filter, not just the kind of mask that people wear for COVID prevention. COVID masks prevent the wearer from exposing others. You need a mask that protects you.
- Wash your hands and the bottoms of your shoes thoroughly. Wash your hands once before cleaning your tools (including the previous mentioned vacuum and mask) and then again, thoroughly, after. Change your clothes. So you don't spread the lead contamination after doing abatement work (and you are already doing abatement work as you sealed off the room). You should do this as close to the room as is practical. Because lead that you carry with you through your house, into your car, and wherever your children are now is still dangerous. Clean the places you travel as well as the room where the contamination occurred.
- It would be better to have this done professionally, by people who already have lead-safe equipment, who already know the lead safe process for abatement and encapsulation. This is not a recommended Do-It-Yourself project.
The biggest thing helping you here is that lead itself is heavy and stable. While the lead is in the walls, it is unlikely to be a problem. The concern here is that some of the lead was removed from the walls and is now dust.