Sorry, parental units, but discovering traces of lead in your kids' toys is the least of your problems with this neurotoxin. More than 80 percent of American homes built before 1978, or roughly 64 million, contain lead paint, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And it's not only chipping and peeling paint you have to watch out for-lead-paint dust from walls, windowsills, woodwork, and other surfaces can be inhaled or ingested after coming into contact with your hands, placing exuberant little explorers (and chewers, especially) at deadly risk.
We've put together a step-by-step guide to determining if lead is present in your home, and what do if it rears its ugly head. 1. Have your paint tested: Although home test kits are widely available, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently rejected most of them as unreliable, especially if the lead in the sample was covered with a non-leaded coating. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) screening, a technology available to professional inspectors, however, produced significantly more-accurate results.
Call the The National Lead Information Center and Clearinghouse (NLICC) at 800-LEAD-FYI or visit its Web site for a list of EPA-certified labs you can send paint chips for testing.
2. Test your children: If you suspect your kids have been exposed to high levels of lead, take them to a doctor to get tested, especially if they're under a year old. Blood lead tests for kids are usually covered under health insurance or Medicaid; some cities even offer these tests for free. Children with blood lead levels above 10 µg/dl (micrograms per deciliter) will need follow-up care.
Tip: Children with nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, and zinc are more susceptible to lead poisoning, so a balanced diet of grains, fruits, and vegetables is essential.
3. Find a lead-abatement specialist: If lead is detected, contact NLICC, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or your regional EPA office for a list of licensed lead-removal experts. Depending on circumstances, the professional may recommend installing paneling or drywall, or applying encapsulation, which is a thick-bodied, protective layer of paint. Ideally, you and your family should stay somewhere else while the cleanup is in progress.
Tip: If you live in public housing, and lead paint is detected in your apartment, the housing authority has to fix the problem within 14 days, or move your family into a lead-free apartment.
4. Wash and wipe down surfaces: Meanwhile, wet-mop floors and wipe windows and other contaminated surfaces with trisodium phosphate or another high-phosphate detergent-note, however, that although phosphate picks up lead, it has serious environmental impacts, especially on marine life, and shouldn't be used for regular cleaning.
Besides washing your kids' hands after they play, before they eat, and before bedtime, be sure to launder their toys with detergent regularly and rinse them well. Also, put brooms and conventional vacuums aside for now, as they'll only scatter dust into the air. Instead, use vacuum cleaners equipped with High Energy Particulate (HEPA) filters.
Difficulty level: Moderate