Nearly 90 percent of homes constructed prior to 1940 are likely to contain some form of lead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns. Homes built before 1978 are the most likely to contain lead-based paint, which was banned that year.
Even minuscule amounts of lead-laced dust can lead to health problems. Whether ingested or inhaled, lead can accumulate in the body and is known to have dire consequences for children and pregnant women. It can cause physical, behavioral and mental health impairment. Lead is a toxic metal that once was widely used in paint, pipes and home finishes.
Federal law requires buyers of homes built prior to 1978 to receive any known information about possible lead in the home. Buyers also need to be given the opportunity to have an inspection completed.
In some markets where older homes are more prevalent, such as Washington, D.C., sellers are required to disclose any orders from local authorities to mitigate lead hazards. “The rule of thumb that we propose in an older home: If the finishes look good, test for lead,” Erik Listou, industry instructor and co-founder of the Living In Place Institute, told The Washington Post. “Because lead is what kept them intact. It is metal; it doesn’t degrade.”
Government agencies are implementing lead safety initiatives, and EPA-certified lead inspectors can be called in to examine a property for any dangers. They use X-ray–like tools for inspections. If paint is not chipping, flaking or peeling, it could be deemed safe, inspectors say. There are several lead-dust safety thresholds. In June, the EPA and HUD made those thresholds even stricter.
“I have inspected houses built in 1900 that still have the original lead-based paint,” John Burnside of Burnside Enterprises in Colorado, told the Post. “It might be under two or three layers of paint, but it is still there after 120 years.”
The remediation of lead paint can involve total removal—which can range from $3,000 to $10,000—sealing any chipping paint, or abatement practices like using a HEPA vacuum to mitigate dangers.