Given that lead paint was banned back in 1978, it's easy to think of lead poisoning as a thing of the past, like polio and smallpox. But lead paint remains a real and present danger in tens of millions of U.S. homes. In fact, lead poisoning is the single greatest environmental health threat to children in this country ages six and younger, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has designated this week as National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
While adults are susceptible to lead poisoning, children are most vulnerable, since exposure can affect their brains and developing nervous systems, causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Lead dust is the most common form of exposure, especially during home repairs and remodels. If you're embarking on a major renovation of a home built before 1978, you should play it safe and assume lead is present. Any professional you hire must follow the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, which ensures that any harmful dust will be properly contained.
Lead paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard, but it's always a good idea to know what dangers are lurking in your home. Consumer Reports has ratings on a handful of do-it-yourself lead test kits, some of which we found easier to use than others. These DIY kits should be treated as a first step toward understanding the lead poisoning risks in your home. Especially if you're planning a major renovation, it pays to work with a certified professional by contacting your state or local agency at 800-424-LEAD.
Remember that drinking water is another potential source of lead poisoning, in particular in homes with lead plumbing. If you're concerned about the safety of your drinking water, consider a water filter. Consumer Reports has Ratings of nearly 50 water filters, from inexpensive carafes costing as little as $15 to sophisticated reverse-osmosis systems that cost more than $1,000 to purchase and maintain, but that will capture lead along with all other potential contaminants.
For more information on National Lead Prevention Week, including specifics on getting your home or your child tested, visit the EPA website.