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Lead based paint in remodeling and renovation

Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the “number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.”

Old lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. today. Most homes built before 1960 contain leaded paint. Some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Harmful exposures to lead can be created when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning.

Lead affects practically all systems within the body. At high levels it can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can adversely affect the brain, central nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys.


  • Separate remodeling areas from living areas – It is important to keep the remodeling work, and dust associated with the work, separated from other areas in the home. This can be done using barriers, an exhaust ventilation strategy, and good work practices as described in HUD’s 1999 Lead Paint Safety: A Field Guide for Painting, Home Maintenance, and Renovation Work.

Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible – Mop floors and wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as cribs with a solution of powdered automatic dishwasher detergent in warm water. (Dishwasher detergents are recommended because of their high content of phosphate.) Most multi-purpose cleaners will not remove lead in ordinary dust. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime. These practices are important at all times, however, pay special attention during remodeling work.

  • Reduce the risk from lead-based paint – As mentioned above, most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint, and some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint. This paint could be on window frames, walls, the outside of homes, or other surfaces. Do not burn painted wood since it may contain lead.


  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition – do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead. Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust (for example, opening a window).
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself – Individuals have been poisoned by scraping or sanding lead paint because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust. Hire a person with special training for correcting lead paint problems to remove lead-based paint. Occupants, especially children and pregnant women, should leave the building until all work is finished and clean-up is done.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home – During remodeling, avoid tracking dust from the work area throughout the rest of the home. It is also important to avoid bringing lead in from other sources. Encourage your children to play in sand and grassy areas instead of dirt which sticks to fingers and toys. Try to keep your children from eating dirt, and make sure they wash their hands when they come inside.
  • Most well and city water does not usually contain lead. Water usually picks up lead inside the home from household plumbing that is made with lead materials. The only way to know if there is lead in drinking water is to have it tested. Contact the local health department or the water supplier to find out how to get the water tested.
  • Call the National Lead Information Center www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/nlic.htm call and speak with a specialist Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm eastern time (except Federal holidays) at 1(800) 424-LEAD [5323].
  • To heighten awareness about lead poisoning prevention, EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances OPPTS) Lead Program has developed Lead in Your Home: A Parent’s Reference Guide (EPA 747-B-98-002) and other publications.
  • Remodeling. Anyone involved in a home improvement project should read the EPA publication Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home (EPA-747-K-97-001) September 1997. 



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