Could lead be lurking in your walls and soil?

Kits available to test for lead

By: Kristyne E. Demske, Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published February 17, 2016

 Kits to test for lead in homes cost less than $15 and can be found at local hardware stores, retail stores and online.

Kits to test for lead in homes cost less than $15 and can be found at local hardware stores, retail stores and online.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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METRO DETROIT — As the water crisis unfolds in Flint, homeowners living in older houses may want to consider that they risk lead contamination as well.

Lead is a toxic metal that can be found throughout the environment — in the air, soil or water — or even inside the home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 4 million U.S. households have children living in them who are exposed to elevated lead levels. 

Lead can cause a variety of health problems, and no amount of lead is safe in children, the CDC says on its website, www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead. When absorbed into the body, it may cause damage to the brain and other organs. Unfortunately, children can be exposed to lead from a variety of sources inside a home, such as in paint, ceramics, pipes, plumbing material, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition and cosmetics. 

The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attests on its website that if a home was built before 1978, when the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, there is a “good chance” it has lead-based paint. Eighty-seven percent of homes built before 1940, 69 percent of homes built between 1940 and 1959, and 24 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1977 are likely to contain lead-based paint, the EPA reports on its website.

Deteriorating lead-based paint — paint that peels, chips, chalks, cracks, or is damaged or damp — in a home is hazardous and needs attention, the EPA states. When homeowners are renovating or repairing surfaces painted with lead, the work can create toxic lead dust. The EPA recommends that homeowners hire a lead-safe renovator. A list of lead-safe renovators is available at www.epa.gov.

Because lead occurs naturally, it is found in soil. Yards and playgrounds can become contaminated when lead-based paint gets into the soil. Soil also can be contaminated from past use of leaded gasoline, the EPA states. 

Children can ingest lead from soil if they put their hands in their mouths after being in contaminated soil, or if they eat vegetables that have absorbed lead from garden soil, the EPA states. The EPA recommends checking the exterior of a home — walls, porches, fences — for deteriorating lead-based paint that may contaminate soil.

Discovering if your home contains lead can be as simple as purchasing a kit from your local hardware store. Pointe Hardware, located at 15020 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park, offers two models, both less than $15, said associate Chelsea Cousineau.

Cousineau said the store stocks one test kit for $10.59 and one for $13.49; kits have gone down in price over the years, she added.

“The one that’s more expensive is a little bit faster of a test and you can test more with it,” she said, explaining that it will test for lead in paint, water, toys, dishes, pottery, antiques, soil or other items. “The other one is more of just a surface test kit.”

Since the Flint water crisis, she said there has been more interest in the lead testing kits. If customers were to find lead in the paint or soil of their homes, Cousineau said the store would recommend they contact a licensed lead abatement company to help remove the paint or other hazardous material.

If you do find lead in your home, you may qualify for up to $8,000 worth of lead remediation work through Michigan’s Lead Safe Home program. The program is open to those who meet all of the following requirements: have a child under 6 years old or a pregnant woman in the home; low or moderate income; the home was built before 1978 and is in the counties of Bay, Calhoun, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Macomb, Oakland or the city of Detroit, or elsewhere if a child tests with a lead level of 5 or above; and you own or rent the home.

The program provides free lead inspection and risk assessment and then lead hazard control work, which may include the replacement of windows, doors, a special cleaning and paint. 

More information about the program is available at www.michigan.gov/leadsafe or by calling (866) 691-5323.

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