Home repairs, painting projects still pose great risk to children

February 11, 2009

Renovation projects on older homes may increase the blood lead levels to harmful amounts in children who live in those homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Renovation projects on older homes may increase the blood lead levels (BLL) to harmful amounts in children who live in those homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

New York health departments assessed 972 children in 2006 to 2007, updating a report conducted in 1997. In each case, data collected included 1) child's age, 2) blood test date, 3) BLL, 4) address and approximate age of dwelling, 5) activities that may have disrupted paint, and 6) name of person who did the repair work. All children had blood lead levels of >20 µg/dL and 71% of cases were age 1 to 2 years.

Projects that involve repairs, painting and construction were all named as likely sources for lead exposure in 14% of children in New York who had raised lead levels. Specific renovations cited were sanding and scraping, chipping away paint from structures, and other activities related to lead-based paint.

Additionally, CDC urges that owners of homes constructed pre-1978 who are planning renovations take precautions to protect children from potentially harmful lead levels. Research has shown that lead levels of >10 µg/dL or greater may lead to developmental and behavioral problems. Further, levels of >20 µg/dL may require environmental and medical assistance.

While lead levels are still being closely monitored, the news has a silver lining in that median blood lead levels of young children have declined 89% from the 1976-to-1980 period compared to 2003-to-2004.

"This decline is largely a result of the phase-out of leaded gasoline and efforts by federal, state, and local agencies to limit lead paint hazards in housing," officials at the CDC said in a statement. While the drop in lead levels has resulted in a sharp dip in number of houses with lead paint issues, CDC contends that many children are still at risk.

For preventive measures, home renovators need more education, CDC urges, about how to avoid lead dangers when working. Of New York cases, resident owners or tenants were responsible for 66% of the renovation work.

Anyone who removes lead-based paint is advised to adhere to recommendations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect children. For tips on avoiding lead exposure, CDC suggests:

  • Have occupants leave the residence while paint removal takes place.
  • Don't allow children near sites where renovation work is being conducted in residences built prior to 1978; also, keep children removed from peeling paint or surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Wash children's toys and hands frequently to avoid consumption of lead particles from indoor dust or outdoor soil.
  • Wet-mop and and wet-wipe floors and windows every two to three weeks.
  • Contact local or state health department about assessing your home's paint or dust for lead.