You can’t tell whether paint is lead-based by just looking at it, so home lead test kits provide a convenient way to inspect your home for lead contaminates. Available at most hardware and paint stores, there are several different types of home lead tests. Some give you an instant result, while others require you to send samples in for laboratory testing. Older homes are much more likely to have lead problems. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about two-thirds of all homes built prior to 1940 contain heavily leaded paint both inside and out, and any house painted prior to 1978 may have lead paint.
Leaded paint is hazardous, and lead poisoning can cause a number of serious problems, including neurological damage, mood changes, raising blood pressure and lowering sperm count. It’s especially dangerous for children — impairing mental and physical development, affecting mental functioning and retarding fetal development. Lead from paint can leach into soil around a house as the paint wears away. It then gets tracked inside, where it mingles with interior lead paint that is degrading with time. Knowing whether the paint in your house contains lead before you do any repainting, demolition or other work that can disturb the paint should determine how you proceed. Some states have restrictions on lead paint removal, and in some cases it’s illegal for anyone but a certified lead abatement professional to do so. As of April 2010, painters and other related tradespeople working on a home with lead paint must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency in lead-safe work practices when working in homes built before 1978.
There are several types of home lead paint tests. Lead levels of 5,000 parts per million (ppm) are considered potentially hazardous. Most home lead tests detect lead as low as 2,000 ppm. They rely on one of two chemicals to detect lead — sodium sulfide or rhodizonate. Since the presence of lead is indicated by a color change that can be difficult to see on some colors of paint, Consumer Reports suggests purchasing one of each for a more accurate reading. A third type of test requires you to send in samples of paint chips or dust for laboratory analysis.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is evaluating home test kits for accuracy. Their criteria for approval are a false negative result rate of under 5 percent, and a false positive rate of less than 10 percent. The EPA recommends that homeowners purchase EPA-approved test kits.
In order to accurately test paint, you’ll have to use a scraper to expose all the layers of paint down to the original surface. The chemical is swabbed on the paint, and quickly changes color if it’s lead-based. Check to see what color the chemical turns when applied to paint. Tests using rhodizonate can give a false positive on red paint. Sulfide kits can be hard to read on dark-colored paint. Take the color of your paint into consideration when choosing test kits.
Lead test kits can also be used on other items in your home. Use one to test older furniture, toys, plates and cookware.
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