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Lead Inspection Answers

What is lead?

Lead is a toxic metal. In the past it was used in household products until it was recognized as a health hazard. Since the 1980's, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations have worked to ban or reduce lead use in consumer products.

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Where is lead found?

Homes, apartments, and other buildings built before 1978 may contain lead or lead dust. The primary sources of lead include:

  • old paint on walls, window sills, trim, and other home surfaces
  • tap water exposed to lead plumbing products (i.e., old lead pipes, solder)
  • soil contaminated by paint chips from sanding and prepping the home's exterior
  • soil contaminated by past exposure to gasoline, which contained lead until 1978
  • air pollution resulting from nearby industrial areas

Lead may also be present in the tap water of new homes. According to the EPA, new "lead-free" pipes still contain up to 8% lead. And, this lead can leach into a home's tap water for up to 5 years.

After 5 years, the mineral build-up that forms on pipe interiors reduces the water's contact with lead.

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Is lead dangerous?

Lead is dangerous if it is swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed by the skin. Children have the highest risk of poisoning from lead exposure. And, pregnant women can pass lead toxicity to an unborn child. Lead can also be harmful to adults.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead can cause these health effects:

Children:
  • brain and nervous system damage
  • behavioral problems
  • learning problems
  • slowed growth
  • hearing problems
  • headaches
Adults:
  • reproductive problems in men and women
  • pregnancy difficulties
  • high blood pressure
  • digestive problems
  • nerve disorders
  • memory and concentration problems
  • muscle and joint pain

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What should I know if I'm buying a home built before 1978?

If that is the case, the seller must disclose the potential for lead-based paint in the home. The seller is not required to test the home for lead, or to pay to have the home tested.

However, the seller should provide you with a lead test report if one has been conducted in the past. You should also receive a pamphlet from your real estate agent that explains the hazards of lead-based paint.

If you plan to have the home inspected for lead-based paint, or to arrange for a lead risk assessment, you will have 10-days to do so before your sales contract is formalized.

It's important to note that the law requiring disclosure of lead-based paint does not apply to foreclosures. So, if you're buying a bank-owned home built before 1978, you may not automatically receive lead disclosure information.

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How do I determine if lead is in my home?

You'll need to have the home tested. Several types of tests are available:

  • Lead hazard screen - This test is only used when the home is in good condition, with minimal chipped or flaking paint.
  • Lead-based paint inspection - This test inspects all interior and exterior painted surfaces. The inspection report lists each surface and indicates if the surface contains lead-based paint.
  • Lead risk assessment - This test includes an inspection of the home for deteriorated paint, which is then tested for lead. The assessment also tests dust in the home and soil around the home. The risk assessment report includes suggestions for controlling any identified hazards.
  • Water - This test checks for lead in tap water. This is not a standard test. You'll need to specifically request it if you want it.
  • For more information, see the EPA's publication, Testing Your Home for Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil.

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Can I test for lead myself?

Hometest kits are sold for lead testing. But, the EPA cautions that they aren't reliable. It's best to hire a licensed professional who has been trained in lead-based paint testing and abatement.

Many states have certification or licensing programs. You can contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD to learn about certification requirements in your state.

For hiring tips, see Finding a Qualified Lead Professional for Your Home. Depending on your state, you may be able to find a qualified inspector on the EPA Web site.

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What if my home tests positive for lead?

Your assessment may find lead-based paint in your home that is in good condition and does not currently pose a health risk. In this case, you'll probably be advised to monitor the condition of the paint from time-to-time.

If lead-based paint hazards are identified, you'll be given suggestions for safely dealing with the problem. If the suggestions include paint removal, it's best not to do the work yourself. Using sanders, heat guns, scrappers, and chemicals can create dangerous lead dust.

Hiring a licensed lead abatement contractor will help keep you and your family safe from dangerous lead exposure.

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How much does a lead inspection cost?

Prices range from $300-$500 depending on several factors including the size of the home.

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Who pays for the lead inspection?

The seller usually pays for the inspection.

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Smart Tips
  • Assessors who also do abatement work may have a conflict of interest and recommend unnecessary action. To avoid the conflict of interest, consider having your testing and abatement done by separate companies.
  • Request that abatement contractors test dust samples from your home after work has been completed. This test will give you peace of mind that the abatement hasn't generated more lead-based dust.
  • If you plan to remodel your home, read the EPA's Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home.
  • Retain any test results or reports. If you sell your home in the future, you'll need to disclose them.

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