Hello! I have come across your site and wondered if you would have the time to answer a question for me? We live in a home in the south built in the 50s. It was completely repainted before we moved in and the lead status is “unknown”. We are renting and our landlords did some sanding of a door frame to get a better fit of the door. I did not think about the lead paint issue at the time and now feel terrible that I let them do it. It was one side of our bathroom door frame. They sanded just a patch of it manually down to where you can see the wood. I can see some of the previous layer of paint. My one year old was in the house as was I, and I was pregnant at the time (they are now two and and infant). We are taking them both to get their blood lead levels tested at the pediatrician this week. Any specific type of test I should ask for? How major of an exposure is this? We have cleaned the area as well as we can. It was never repainted (to avoid the toxic fumes of the paint, ironically). We are renting and we move next month. My older child was tested routinely with the finger stick screening test around 11 months and it was negative (this was before the incident). I am super cautious about avoiding chemicals in our home and buying high quality toys to keep them safe from leads, phthalates, bpa, etc.. My husband and I are absolutely sick over this. I know lead is very dangerous even in small amounts. Any pointers on where to go from here? Thank you for your time. ….I should add that it was filing with a metal file, by hand, not actual sanding with a sander. Around a 3 foot by 2 inch area on the inside of our bathroom doorway.
If you have an additional answer for Kayla, please post in the comments below.
ANSWER FROM LEN:
Great question! As your inquiry actually includes several distinct questions, I think it would be helpful to break them (my answers to them) out into a list, so here goes:
In response to: “ It was completely repainted before we moved in and the lead status is ‘unknown’. “
1. Landlords (and home sellers) are routinely advised to check “unknown” on the standard lead-hazard-disclosure form as a way of avoiding potential liability—regardless of whether they do in fact have knowledge, or have reason to suspect—or by virtue of common sense ought to suspect—that there may very likely be lead paint in their older dwelling. Rule of thumb: any structure painted before 1980 (the lead paint ban officially went into effect in the U.S. in 1978) is a likely candidate to possibly contain lead paint. The factors that might make that more likely still would be:
- A higher quality construction or more expensive home – lead paint was marketed & regarded as “the good stuff”—yeah, I know, sounds pretty sick now, huh?!)
- Architectural Style – Victorians, and other styles that featured a lot of painted surfaces would obviously be more likely to have lead paint than styles that emphasized “natural”, unpainted wood, brick, metal, etc. It should be noted, however that even clear finishes formulated back-in-the-day often contained high amounts of lead. (Holy #%&*!)
- Local weather zone – lead paint resisted harsh weather conditions better and was also often heavily used in marine environments / seaside communities.
- Historical building customs in your community – if other similar houses in your neighborhood are known to have lead paint hazards, chances are quite high that yours may as well.
In response to: “We are renting and our landlords did some sanding of a door frame to get a better fit of the door. “
2. It takes only a microscopic amount of lead dust to contaminate an area and poison a child; dry scraping or sanding a surface that had lead paint on it [incredibly, even if that visible paint was previously removed – link following shortly] – or even the friction of just opening and closing an old original double-hung window – is more than enough to generate that amount of contamination! It actually all sounds quite absurd, but we now know that lead is such an incredibly potent neurotoxin that exposure to it can permanently damage a child at the lowest levels of detection. There is truly no “safe level” for lead in a child’s environment.
In response to: “I did not think about the lead paint issue at the time and now feel terrible that I let them do it.” and “My husband and I are absolutely sick over this.”
3. Okay, this one is a biggie—and a bit philosphical in nature—but crucial: As we become aware and informed about the harm (both realized and potential) that our activities (both collectively and individually) have unintentionally caused to our environment and ourselves and others, alarm, upset, anger, regret and remorse are common, natural and understandable reactions – and are healthy and can even be considered initially useful. Unending or extreme reactions, such as prolonged anxiety, panic, alienation, depression, resignation, cynicism or unfocused anger, vengence, etc. on the other hand – while certainly understandable – are not particularly useful or effective—particularly if the intention is to do what we can to address/ameliorate/improve what can be in this world. As far as I can tell, we are all mortal, and so the fundamental truth about life is that “it is a terminal condition”… and also that as mere mortals, we are all imperfect… So with these these considerations in mind, we all have to try to forgive ourselves and others to whatever extent we can and get on with the business of protecting the full potential of all children moving forward—and that demands first coming to terms with our own ignorance, limitations, misteps, etc. – and those of others, as well as our grief, and then take a deep breath, renew our sense of appreciation for the miracle of life and see what we can do to help. <stepping down from soap box>
In response to: “Any specific type of test I should ask for? How major of an exposure is this?” and “My older child was tested routinely with the finger stick screening test around 11 months and it was negative…”
4. When testing for lead, a carefully done finger-prick test is a good place to start—and can serve as an excellent field screening tool, but is not a substitute for a more accurate venous draw. Also, let the doctor or lab know that you need to know the actual BLL value (the “number”)—not simply, “less than x” or “negative” or “OK”! There is a full spectrum of awareness/understanding among health professionals—ranging from quite up to date knowledge to near total ignorance to quite badly misinformed—so be polite, but insist on knowing the actual number, and don’t let confident assurances that it’s “normal” or “fine” dissuade you. Anything higher than a “2.0” indicates a potential specific source of exposure and should therefore not be merely dismissed just because so many kids who live in or near older housing stock have levels that are that high or higher. While a source of confusion and dangerous misunderstanding has been the CDC’s public statements about “levels of concern” and “reference levels” which merely reflect levels at which U.S. intervention policy triggers are politically/economically feasible, they do not equate with any actual threshold of risk or harm; indeed the CDC’s own studies consistently contain language that unequivocally states, “there is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood”—yet pediatricians quite commonly misinterpret the CDC’s more widely disseminated policy statements that include an essentially arbitrarily determined BLL number (it used to be “40” and then “20” and then “10” and was recently halved again to “5”!) as a level below which a child is “fine” or “negative”! [No child’s BLL test result of “4.9” should be blithely regarded as “negative”!]
In response to: “Any pointers on where to go from here?”
5. The most important single step to take if you discover that your child has an elevated blood lead level is to remove the child to a confirmed lead-safe environment if at all possible as soon as is possible. Once that step is taken, arrange for a thorough, professional hazard assessment to be done by a certified, respected independent hazard assessor of the suspected source dwelling (home, school, daycare, etc.). The report from the hazard assessor will identify and quantify both active and potential hazards, and will included recommended actions to address these hazards. the next step is to (again, with the child/children safely relocated away from the property in question) conduct whatever work is to be done (ranging from inexpensive (but thorough, specific/specialized) cleaning to possible major work or even permanent relocation. Finally, do not return a child to that environment until a proper formal clearance test confirms the absence of any contaminated dust (both from original sources and/or as a result of any new or further contamination arising from improper or insufficient containment during any work that may have been done to address existing hazards.)
Anyone who tells you that this is all “overblown” or “unnecessary”, etc. is either ignorant, misinformed, cynical or a combination of the above and should be politely thanked for their (dangerous) opinion.
While we always hope that a particular child who has been exposed to lead has been fortunate enough to have been spared permanent brain damage, nervous system and/or immune system damage, etc., it is our responsibility to treat the matter seriously, act quickly and decisively and to err on the side of caution.
As any parent raising a lead-poisoned child can confirm, prevention is so much less painful and less costly than the alternative.
– Len Rubin
A QUICK P.S. FROM TAMARA:
- Clean the entire area with Clorox Wipes – they have surfactants that remove lead particles. Cleaning with a reusable rag can just end up putting toxicants/lead particles into your laundry.
- If this happens to you, make sure you have at least ONE ROOM in the house that is completely safe for baby while you work on making the rest of the home safe.
- Contact your city or county program to see if they have a lead-hazard remediation grant. This is public federal funding to offer free home testing to families (renters or homeowners.) We are working on putting together a list of resources by state HERE.
- If the public program finds hazards you may actually qualify for interim relocation and to have the work done on your home for free.
- Avoid having rugs in your home if at all possible (that includes wall-to-wall carpets) – they just trap bad stuff, and it is so much easier to clean natural wood floors (or linoleum or other hard surface flooring alternatives.)
- Ask more questions (post in comments or on Facebook!) If you post questions here there are experts around the country who read my blog and who may offer you their advice as well.