From Our 2009 Archives

Home Repair Raises Lead Levels in Kids

Study Shows Renovations in Older Homes Can Be Source of Lead in Children's Blood

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 29, 2009 -- Repair, renovation, and painting of older homes can raise lead in the blood of children living in such environments to dangerous levels, the CDC says.

In a study in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, construction and renovation activities were identified as probable sources of lead exposure in 14% of children in New York (outside New York City) with highly elevated lead levels.

In the cases of the affected children, renovations often included sanding and scraping, removal of painted materials or structures, and other activities known to release particles of lead-based paint.

In 1978, lead-based paint was banned for residential use. The CDC says that children living in housing built before then are at high risk of elevated lead levels in blood during and after renovations, painting, and repairs. Young children are at highest risk.

The CDC suggests that steps be taken to protect kids from lead when dwellings built before 1978 are renovated.

Although no level of lead in the blood is safe, lead levels of 10 micrograms/deciliter or greater are associated with developmental and behavioral problems. Levels of at least 20 micrograms/deciliter warrant environmental and medical interventions.

In 2006-2007, local health departments in New York conducted investigations for 972 children reported to have blood lead levels of at least 20 micrograms/deciliter; 71% of those cases were in children 1-2 years old.

In January 2008, New York officials investigated the cases and concluded that renovating, repair, and painting were the most likely source of lead in children with blood levels of 20 micrograms/dL or greater.

Median blood lead levels of young children have declined 89% between 1976-1980 and 2003-2004. "This decline is largely a result of the phase-out of leaded gasoline and efforts by federal, state and local agencies to limit lead paint hazards in housing," the CDC says.

The decline has lead to a drastic drop in housing units with lead paint hazards, the CDC says, but many children are still exposed.

The Environmental Protection Agency last year issued regulations requiring all renovators in the U.S. who work on certain types of housing or child-occupied facilities to be certified by 2010 as being able to complete their work while holding down lead contamination.

Do-it-yourselfers and other home renovators need to be better educated, the CDC says, about how to prevent lead contamination when they work. Of the New York cases, 66% of the renovation, repair, and painting work was done by resident owners or tenants.

The CDC offers these tips to prevent lead exposure:

  • Move occupants during paint removal, and exclude children and pregnant women from sites where renovation work is being done in dwellings built before 1978.
  • Keep children away from peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Regularly wash children's toys and hands to avoid ingestion of lead particles from indoor dust or outdoor soil.
  • Clean floors and windows by wet-mopping and wet-wiping every 2-3 weeks.
  • Checking with local or state health department about testing your home's paint or dust for lead.

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 30, 2009; vol 58: pp 55-57. CDC: "Tips to Prevent Lead Exposure."

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