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Your home could contain dangerous lead paint: How to find out

Forty-six years after it was banned in the U.S., many homes still have lead paint, which could potentially cause health problems.
Posted at 4:18 PM, Jan 15, 2024

You may keep your house in great shape, and probably repainted it with latex paint at some point. But if your home was built before 1978, you might want to dig a little deeper to keep your family safe.

That's because there's a chance that underneath that latex paint is dangerous lead paint. 

Aaron Grant brings bad news to people when his team of inspectors from People Working Cooperatively finds lead paint in homes. Scripps News accompanied him on a visit to a home built in 1950, where their testing gun found lead on the front porch railings.

"That positive reading means lead-based paint is here," Grant said.

The good news is that it was outdoors. But Grant says that even safe latex paint can wear off indoors, revealing old lead paint below.

He showed us worn paint on the edges of a closet door, where several layers of paint were revealed.

"This is a good example of something we are looking for in an inspection," Grant said. "Even just normal things like opening and closing a door can lead to a lead-based paint hazard."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even low levels of lead in the bloodstream can cause cognitive impairment in children that is irreversible. The CDC estimates that 29 million homes still could have lead paint. Of those, over 2.6 million are home to young children.

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EPA: Millions of homes contain lead risks

Marc Edmonds is with the Existing Chemicals Risk Management division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He says that while lead-based paint was banned by the government in 1978, it’s still around today.

"I think some people look at this like it's an old problem, but it's not. There's lead-based paint in 34 million homes across the country," he said.

The older your home is, such as a home from the 1930s, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Edmonds says the risks occur primarily in areas with daily friction — such as a closet door — or during a home remodel.

"Children are more susceptible," he said. "Little kids crawl on the floor, and then they put their hands in their mouths."

If you want peace of mind or are planning to renovate an older home, Edmonds recommends you get a risk assessment and avoid a do-it-yourself approach.

"There are probably 70,000 firms across the country that will test your home," he said.

How to get your home tested

You can search the EPA's database of authorized inspectors by clicking here.

"They know how to do the work properly," Edmonds said.

Grant's team at People Working Cooperatively does free inspections for those in Southwest Ohio meeting low-income guidelines and charges a small fee for other homeowners. After finding lead paint on a homeowner's front porch railings, Grant's team recommended professional sanding and repainting to remove the hazard.

In many cases, lead paint does not have to be removed like asbestos: a thorough repainting will cover and encapsulate it unless it is on a wear item like a door or window frame.