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I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

Hi All,

This entry is a bit long-winded, but I think that this is a very important topic for all. I’ve been a faithful This Old House magazine subscriber for years. I’ve enjoyed reading about all of the fantastic remodels and old house restorations, but as far as I know (and let me know if I'm wrong), there is not one article about the dangers of removing lead paint. Most of these renovations and restoration jobs require that you disturb walls/paint. I used to get very motivated reading about people who uncovered beautiful wood underneath layers of paint they removed.

Personally, I had a very bad scare last year. My husband and I have been restoring our 115 year old house for the last 6 years. We were not planning to have kids, so just like the poeple in This Old House, we went ahead and stripped the paint off of all of our mouldings. The floor was painted too, so we hired a floor professional to sand them. 6 years later, the house was still not finished, and lo and behold, I got pregnant. We had a healthy baby girl, and with the encouragement from our pediatrician, we had our house tested for lead. The numbers were off the charts, so I immediately had the baby tested. Luckily, the tests came out negative and we were VERY relieved to say the least. We have her tested every 6 months due to the risks and so far, she is clean.

I am in my 40s and I know that people in my age group and older have been exposed to lead paint. My husband remembers eating paint chips (and he's still a smart cookie).

The city where I live in is filled with rows and rows of old houses. When the renovation boom came along, most of the houses on my block were gutted and re-done. Where did all of the lead-laden debris go to? Answer: The landfills. When I was redoing my kitchen, I consulted with a lead abatement specialist and for a 400 square room, he quoted me $7,500 to take down 4 walls!! We definitely could not afford that. When I asked him why the price was so high, he replied that he has to contain the lead paint in a special metal barrel where it will be incinerated at a special facility. It just didn't make sense to me - so how about the other houses when they did their demos? Did they place their debris in special metal drums too? I don't think so.

I also talked to the City’s top lead specialist, and he offered to do a lead test in my home. He said that if he finds any lead in my house, he will close my house down and won’t let me in until I perform lead abatement - this could cost over $20,000!! How about the other houses? All of them have lead too. Shouldn’t he close those houses down too? He had no comment about that.

I was reading about how ingesting one micron of lead can screw up a child's brain development, and how a neighbor's house gut job can affect you as well since their lead dust can land on your property. If this is true, my child's lead levels should be sky high. Several of my neighbors have gutted their houses and I know that there are more than several hundred micron particles of lead dust stuck somewhere between our floor boards due to our prior work removing paint and sanding the floors.

In my house, there are several doorways where the hacked up mouldings have peeling paint - they desperately need replacing. I'm stuck because prying off the moulding would disturb the paint and produce lead particles, but not removing the moulding is bad too because the paint will continue to crack and fall off. I can't imagibe spending $2,500 per doorway for a lead abatement company. So what do I do? Move out?

I literally walk around with a spray bottle of Ledizolv (a cleaner that dissolves lead particles - used by lead abatement companies), and I'm making myself crazy thinking about all the lead particles that are hiding in the nooks and crannies. I cringe when my daughter plays on the floor, and I am constantly washing her hands. My question is for the old house owners out there - has anyone else been in the same shoes? If so, how did you deal with it? The bottom line is that lead is everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE), and believe me, I am fully aware of the dangers of lead. How do you live in your house without going crazy thinking about that? :eek:

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

As a Landlord in who has a rental house he rents out I certainly can understand how you feel about lead. With our house having been built in about 1965 or so we were very concerned before renting what was my grandmothers house for the first time.
Lead is very dangerous for young children and you certainly have every right to be concerned. Don't be so overly concerned though that it drives you crazy as you said in your title. I think you can safely remove the lead yourself and no I don't think you need to put it in a special barrel but can place it in empty paint cans that you can buy at the Home Depot or Lowes and then during hazardous waste collections at your local landfill or some other appropriate place drop them off and label them lead paint. Trust too that they will do the right thing with your waste. That takes care of the waste disposal now I have some ideas about removing the paint itself.
First off sanding is a real no no as that just gets little bits of lead paint dust everywhere and that isn't good. What I do suggest you do is buy a paint stripper that has a special paper that goes with the stripper. You put the stripper on your door frame first and then put the paper on the frame and wait until it sets then just peel away the bad paint. Most of the places where children might mouth an area is on the door frame or the window frame so you don't need to strip the walls too. Also don't forget the cove molding by the floor you need to strip that too. Next buy a good primer that will seal in things like Kilz and then paint with a good modern day paint the walls and trim and you should be fine. It will not hurt to have your child tested and definitely keep your child away from the areas you do strip and maybe use plastic to keep dust from entering other areas if you are concerned about lead dust during removal. My personal opinion is that you will not need the plastic if you use the stripper I was talking about but you can't be too careful and the plastic doesn't cost that much either.
I would also go to the EPA's website at http://www.epa.gov and look for their guidelines on lead paint. I am sure you know the numbers as you did mention them but it doesn't hurt to read them again. The EPA has a good deal of information about lead abatement and hopefully can put your mind at ease a bit. I know in the state where we rent our house with guidelines from the federal government they set limits that we had to follow. Luckily we were within those guidelines and didn't have to remove any paint.
According to our states mandates we wouldn't have had to remove or strip all of the frame just the first four feet and would have been legal but we probably would have removed all of the paint just to be safe.
Good luck to you!:)

Ron remodeler
Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

My mother grew up in a house with lead pipes; she was the salutatorian in her high school and is still sharp as a tack and going strong in her 80's.

Also the entire city plumbing was lead pipes in the streets and only removed as recently as the 1980's.

I'd relax a little and just be very thorough cleaning and keeping the kids from gnawing on the doorways.

I had a friend whose dad fell on ice going down his front steps and died so you could say ICE is more dangerous at times but i wouldn't let it worry me, just prepare myself for it as best as I could.:)

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

Lead is a great concern with small children... I have always loved old houses and recently purchased a 1931 colonial. We are not having children any time soon but it has crossed my mind about the lead in the house... I know it has it, come on it was built in the 30's. We are stripping wood in a room at the moment and I ALWAYS think about the lead... There aren't too many layers but still... EeeK... It's also on my mind because a very good friend of mine has a little girl (a three year old) who loves to put things in her month. They to lived in an old home in Dayton, Ohio... She seemed to be having some learning difficulties with speech and things of that nature. The parents were told she could be autistic. But her third year check-up reveled very high lead levels and she was sent to Children's Hospital for treatments. She has had three and the levels are still high... the family lost the home b/c they couldn't afford the treatments to get rid of the paint, so the city let them go bankrupt on it and are now living in a home that was put aside for them by the by a program for people with lead in their homes. They had to get it taken care of b/c it was a reported incident. I'm not trying to scare you by any means but it is a concern. This is also an isolated incident... And when I say this kid hand on oral fixation I mean she had an oral fixation... You could see the bite marks on the wood, she would even lick the walls. No one will say if the lead poisoning caused some of her developmental issues or if she really is autistic which caused her to put stuff in her month that she should not... You have to think of it this way, this child was consuming lots of lead paint chips, eating it right off the wall just because... Most of us grew up in homes with lead based paint and most of us are normal. I suggest just sealing everything up... for piece of mind...

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

Relax a bit. There are lead encapsulant paints that are good for twenty years. They are more expensive then normal paints but a lot less expensive then lead paint removal. You can also get the normal range of colors and a homeowner can do the painting. Go to BobVila.com He has written a very reasuring article on lead paint encapsulating. His article will greatly relive your anxiety.

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

"Everything in moderation," as they say.

The thing to keep in mind is that most studies that link common things to health risks generally only prove a link when there is high concentrations of the stuff in question. Asbestos, mercury, lead, PCBs, Benzene, Bisphenol-A, etc. all have proven health risks, but only those people who have been exposed to them in high concentration have developed health problems. These are people who work with them every day, in their mining, manufacture, and disposal. Of the people who died on one of the South Pole expeditions (was it the Scott expedition?), it's been determined that the cause of death was lead poisoning from food sealed in cans soldered with lead. Among Japanese, it was discovered there was an abnormal rate of birth defects among the children of people who ate fish taken from a mercury-contaminated body of water.

Like a previous poster suggested, ice poses a more immediate danger yet we don't regulate it; the difference is that we as a society fully understand the risk of ice exposure but we don't fully understand the risk of lead exposure. Since we have a psychological propensity to fear that which we don't understand, we overreact at the mere suggestion of risk.

For the rest of us, occasional environmental exposure to carcinogens is unlikely to cause cancer. This means that the lead paint that is securely attached to your walls is relatively safe, and precautions need to be taken only if and when you decide to remove it. Of course, you need to be prudent: don't create airborne dust by sanding, don't wash it down the creek, and don't let your kids chew on the windowsills.

Of course, I don't advocate putting lead back in paint (even though lead-based paint has superior bonding, color retention, and durability properties). Now that we know better, we shouldn't intentionally contaminate our environment. But we don't need to overreact and remove all traces of harmful stuff from our lives, because in the right form & place it isn't harmful, and in many cases the cost of action outweighs the cost of inaction.

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house
Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

"I was reading about how ingesting one micron of lead can screw up a child's brain development, and ..."
A micron is a unit of length, one millionth of a mater, so it is not quantifiable for measuring lead. I think lead would be measured in micrograms per milliliter, say, in blood, or PPM in water or air.
The worst lead exposure would come from breathing in lead vapors, like from torching paint from wood. Or sanding lead acetate-containing primer from wood, and swallowing the dust. Then would be touching dust and ingesting it, because you ate w/o washing hands, or carried lead dust on your clothes. Lead paint chips by themselves are pretty much already "encapsulated" and unless ground into dust by treading on them, or eating them by the tablespoon-full, they are a low-grade immediate hazard.
The recommendations are: don't burn lead paint. Don't create lots of lead dust. Clean up lead dust immediately, and clean surfaces with TSP, which captures lead on a molecular level. If you have cleaned with TSP, your room is safe.

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

WOW! I can't belive I received so many replies. When I first posted this thread, I received no replies for a while so I stopped checking. I'm glad I went back. Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I keep my house clean and I continue to get my daughter tested. So far so good!

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

I am glad to hear your daughter is doing fine. I think if you took the advice of encapsulating the paint and removing some of the lead paint in your daughters room she will continue to be fine. Just like with everything else supervision is the key word and I am sure she is getting plenty of supervision. I am glad you updated your post and wish your daughter continued good health:) Have a pleasant day!

Re: I'm going crazy thinking about the lead paint in my house

First, congratulations and we are thankful the daughter is fine.

The inspector made his statement out of typical bureaucratic overkill. If he knows there is a problem there he has to take drastic action to justify his existence. Remember, the more control we give govt, the more they grind us under the heel. Don't involve them if you can avoid it.

The peeling door jambs and trim can be pried off with minimal disturbance, cut with a utility knife along the edge with the wall to prevent tearing. Cut to proper length outside and dispose of into a box or trash bag and set on the curb, spreading this out over several pickups so the trash guy doesn't complain. Install new jambs and trim with safer coatings.

Paint over the walls. As long as the lead is not disturbed, it is not a health issue.


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