My husband and I have been watching a lot of HGTV lately. Many of the shows feature DIY (do-it-yourself) projects or home renovations. The thing that makes me cringe when watching these shows are their utter lack of protection (or even mention) against the hazards of lead paint exposure. I think the hazard of lead paint is often dangerously overlooked. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is safe to assume that any home built before 1978 will have lead paint.
Why is lead paint so hazardous? Lead paint can flake and peel over time. The dust caused by the deteriorating paint can be ingested by children when they touch contaminated surfaces and then place their fingers in their mouths. Lead poisoning in children can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Once exposed, the "standard treatments for lead-poisoned children produce only a short-term or marginal lowering of the child's body lead levels and do not lower the child's chance of developing lead-related behavioral or learning problems." Children are at risk because their brains and nervous systems are still developing. In other words, "the best treatment is prevention."
Lead paint is not only dangerous to children, it is also dangerous to pregnant and nursing mothers. Too much lead in pregnant women may cause: miscarriage, pre-term birth, low birth weight, hurt the baby's brain, kidneys and nervous system, or cause learning or behavior problems in the child. The March of Dimes also has some great information about lead and pregnancy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "widespread lead screening of children" for lead exposure. They have some great information about lead screening for children. Even if you do not live in a home built before 1978, your child may attend day care or go to a school built before 1978 and can be exposed to lead paint.
Since prevention is the key to prevent lead poisoning, in 2008, the EPA issued the "lead, renovation, repair and painting program." "It requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes, child care facilities and schools be certified by EPA and that they use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers to follow lead-safe work practices." To comply, contractors must contain the work area, minimize dust and clean up thoroughly. They must also provide information about the hazards of lead with a brochure.
I remember back in college volunteering for organizations like Habitat for Humanity and doing demolition work. We worked on some pretty old homes and not once did anyone ever mention the hazards of lead paint. It didn't even cross my mind that doing demolition work on some of those houses would have been hazardous. For the person that does these DIY projects, the EPA's brochure is a great resource. I only hope that programs that air on television will do more to educate the public and protect themselves and workers on their shows from the effects of lead paint exposure. Lead poisoning is highly preventable if only people knew about the dangers and ways to minimize the risk.