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Lead In Older Homes – Lead Dangers

BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez
BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez

What was once believed to be true may be a lie.  New evidence shows that lead in older homes is more dangerous than originally thought.

And while lead is (almost) dead in modern homes, it’s still a risk to children and pregnant women in older abodes.

In fact, U.S. home buyers get a warning pamphlet with any home built before 1978 so they can test before closing.

Key takeaways:

  • Lead Risks: Lead is a significant danger in older homes, especially for children and pregnant women.
  • Lead Sources: Common sources include lead-based paint and lead pipes.
  • Health Effects: Lead poisoning can cause serious health issues like developmental delays in children and high blood pressure in adults.
  • Testing: Home buyers should test for lead, especially in homes built before 1978.
  • Prevention: Use water filters and hire professionals for lead abatement.

Lead In Older Homes – The Silent Epidemic?

Called the “silent epidemic” for having no unique symptoms, lead poisoning causes some serious damage:

affects of lead exposure on the body
The effects lead exposure on the body

In fact, up to 90% of North American houses built before the fifties contain lead-based paint.

Dangerous Dust – Lead-Based Paint

The biggest risk for children comes from playing around door jambs and window frames.

They get dust on their fingers then put them in their mouth.

Everyone needs to avoid the dust scraped or sanded surfaces in older homes. This is a job for specially-trained lead abatement contractor.

By the way, vacuuming the dust only makes the situation worse.

Toxic Taps – Lead Pipes in Older Homes

Old homes often have lead water pipes.

Lead leaches into the standing water in the pipes and gets inside our body. (the word plumbing comes from the Latin word plumbum, which means lead).

Toilet and sink drains were also made of lead because the pipes could hand molded.

Lead solder is also used to join older lead pipes to modern copper pipes.

And molten lead could seal big cast iron sewer drain pipes.

But New Homes Are Still at Risk

You may think you’re safe in a shiny new home, but many areas get the lead delivered straight to their front yard.

If you think you have high lead levels, buy yourself a filter to remove lead before it reaches the tap.

Most home inspectors point out lead pipes.

Cities charges about $50 for water testing and home inspectors can test for lead paint for about the same price.

Now that you know how dangerous lead in older homes can be, be sure to protect yourself from this silent killer.

Symptoms of lead poisoning – Know what to expect

Lead in older homes is a serious health concern, especially for young children and pregnant women. Lead poisoning can sneak up on you, often without obvious signs. Let’s break it down and dig a little deeper into the symptoms you should watch out for:

Common Symptoms in Children:

  • Developmental Delay: Slower growth and learning difficulties.
  • Irritability: Unexplained mood swings or crankiness.
  • Loss of Appetite: Less interest in food, leading to weight loss.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired and sluggish more often.
  • Abdominal Pain: Complaints of stomachaches, often without other digestive symptoms.
  • Vomiting: Occasional vomiting without a clear cause.
  • Hearing Loss: Not responding to sounds as they normally would.
  • Constipation: Struggling with regular bowel movements.
  • Seizures: In severe cases, children might experience seizures.

Common Symptoms in Adults:

  • High Blood Pressure: Unusual spikes in blood pressure.
  • Joint and Muscle Pain: Unexplained aches and pains.
  • Difficulties with Memory or Concentration: Problems with remembering things or focusing.
  • Headaches: Frequent or persistent headaches.
  • Abdominal Pain: Similar to children, adults can also experience stomach pains.
  • Mood Disorders: Depression or unusual changes in mood.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Sensations in the extremities like fingers and toes.
  • Reduced Sperm Count and Abnormal Sperm: For men, lead poisoning can affect fertility.

Example Scenario:

Imagine this scenario: You notice your child has been unusually irritable, not eating well, and often complains about stomach pain. At first, you might chalk it up to a common bug. But when these symptoms persist, it might be time to consider testing for lead exposure.

What Does This Mean for You?

Be vigilant. If you suspect lead exposure, especially lead in older homes with lead-based paints or plumbing, don’t wait. Seek medical advice and get a blood test. Early detection can prevent long-term health issues.

  • If you’re a parent: Keep an eye on your child’s behavior and physical symptoms.
  • If you’re an adult: Be aware of your own health changes, especially if you live or work in environments with potential lead exposure.

Remember, prevention is key. Regular check-ups and being mindful of your living environment can make a huge difference. Lead poisoning is preventable, and knowing the symptoms is your first line of defense.

Frequently Asked Questions

The primary sources of lead in older homes include lead-based paint, lead pipes, and contaminated soil. Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint, and lead pipes can be found in plumbing systems, potentially contaminating drinking water.

Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, and weight loss. In adults, lead poisoning can lead to high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, memory issues, and mood disorders.

Lead in paint and pipes is dangerous because it can deteriorate into dust and chips, which are easily ingested or inhaled. Lead exposure can cause serious health issues, especially in children and pregnant women.

You can test for lead in your home by hiring a certified lead inspector or risk assessor. Additionally, home test kits are available for testing paint, dust, and water for lead presence. More information on testing can be found here.

If your home has lead-based paint, do not disturb it. Hire a certified lead abatement professional to safely remove or encapsulate the paint. Keep the area clean and minimize dust.

Regular vacuuming with a HEPA filter can help remove lead dust, but it is not a complete solution. Wet cleaning methods are more effective at reducing lead dust. Ensure to clean all surfaces, including windowsills and floors.

Modern homes built after 1978 are less likely to contain lead-based paint or pipes. However, lead can still be present in some household items or imported products, so it’s important to remain vigilant.

To reduce the risk of lead poisoning, keep your home clean, use a HEPA vacuum, and regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Ensure any renovations are done by certified professionals who follow lead-safe practices.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, fatigue, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. These symptoms can often be mistaken for other health issues.

In adults, lead poisoning can cause high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, mood disorders, and abdominal pain. Chronic exposure can lead to more severe health problems.

For more detailed information, you can visit the EPA’s Lead page or the CDC’s Lead page.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Rodriguez is a Certified Master Inspector® and the owner of Bulldog Professional Inspection Services. He will perform your home inspection and has personally uncovered tens-of-thousands of defects in 14,000+ Kansas City properties since 2003.
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