Release date 08/04/2008
YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports’ tests of 18 lead and radon test kits for the September issue confirmed that some are a good first step, but testers also found confusing instructions, challenging procedures and inaccurate results.
Four lead test kits for detecting lead in house paint—Abotex Lead Inspector Lead Test Kit, $13; First Alert Premium Lead Test Kit LT1, $20; Homax LeadCheck 5250 Test Kit, $8; and SKC LeadCheck Instant 225-2404 Sampling Test Kit, $24; were rated Easy to Use. Industrial Test Systems SenSafe Lead Paint Test 480310, $15; had confusing instructions and was rated Difficult to Use.
Among radon test kits, CR tested seven short-term kits, three long-term kits and a digital-readout meter that can be used for either short or long-term measurements using experts at two outside labs. Among long-term kits (typically exposed for 90 days or more before lab analysis) Accustar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100, $28, topped CR’s ratings and is a CR Best Buy. All three long-term kits, however, were very good.
While some were fine options, three short-term kits were especially inaccurate, unreliable, or both. The Accustar Short Term LS Radon Test Kit CLS 100i, $25, and the Kidde Radon Detection Kit 442020, $16, underreported radon levels by almost 40 percent. The Accustar Short Term Canister Radon Test Kit AC-1001, $30, was only “Fair” in accuracy and in reproducing the same result under the same conditions.
The full report is available in the September issue of Consumer Reports on sale August 5th and online at www.consumerreports.org.
CR hired a licensed lead inspector to scan for lead in three pre-1960 homes owned by Consumers Union staffers. Lead-based paint in homes was outlawed in the U.S. in 1978; many homes built before then probably have some. Then, the homeowners used seven do-it-yourself test kits, costing between $8 and $30. All the kits quickly indicated where lead was present.
Lead can sicken people at any age, but young children are at greatest risk; hundreds of thousands of them in the United States have elevated levels in their blood. Paint levels starting at 5,000 parts per million (ppm) or 1 milligram per square centimeter (1mg/cm2) are considered high enough to require evaluation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in federally funded or aided housing. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, however, believes that any lead that could be ingested or inhaled could pose a serious risk, especially to children.
“Lead test kits are a reasonable first step for homes built before 1978 if no one in the house has elevated blood levels,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor, Consumer Reports. “Every homeowner should test their home for radon and we recommend that people use long-term test kits because radon levels can change from day-to-day and month-to month.”
Lead paint can gradually deteriorate into flakes, chips, and fine dust that’s easily inhaled or eaten by small children, even when it’s covered by many layers of unleaded paint. Lead poisoning’s effects can include brain damage and diminished mental and physical development.
The kits CR tested detected lead levels as low as 2,000 ppm in the home-based tests. In CR’s lab tests, some kits detected lead at levels below 1,000 ppm. None of them falsely identified paint in a Consumer Reports lab painted in 1990 as having lead. CR’s experts found that all kits required practice: Exposing the layers of old paint took strength, dexterity, and lots of practice. Home test kits use one of two chemicals to detect lead by color change, but correctly reading color changes when lead levels were low also took practice.
All children should be screened at ages 1 and 2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines elevated lead levels as 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood, but Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, believes that the CDC should lower that amount to 5 micrograms per deciliter because research suggests that even low levels may be harmful.
If a child tests negative and you live in a house built before 1978, you might still want to know if any painted surfaces contain lead, since remodeling and even sanding could release it. Rhodizonate-based kits can yield false positives on red or pink paint and sulfide-based kits can yield false negatives or positives on dark paint. For more reliable results, use one of each type of kit.
If your child tests positive, the quickest route to detection and stabilization is to find a certified lead inspector or risk assessor.
Radon, an invisible radioactive gas, results from the breakdown of uranium and radium in the soil and rocks beneath homes. After smoking, radon is the top cause of lung cancer and is responsible for some 21,000 deaths a year, according to the EPA. Overexposure is symptom-free, and once you’re exposed, there’s no treatment.
Radon is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L); 1.3 is considered the national average indoor level. Although 4 pCi/L is the recommended EPA action level, the agency also suggests that homeowners consider remediation at levels between 2- and 4-pCi/L.
CR found that long-term radon kits are more accurate. Radon levels can vary significantly from day to day. Sampling levels for 90 days or more gives you a more accurate idea of average radon levels. Only one short-term kit, the RTCA 4 Pass Charcoal Canister, $20; was accurate enough for CR to recommend. But homeowners should still confirm its results with a long-term test. The $120 Safety Siren Pro Series 3 digital meter is best for monitoring levels after mitigation.