You might not think something as archaic as lead-based paint would still be a problem. Wasn't that over at about the same time doctors stopped recommending cigarettes? You might be surprised.
Although lead-based paint is long obsolete, it still remains a genuine issue for homeowners and Realtors. In the early 1990s, a new law referred to as the Housing and Community Development Act made it so that the seller of a home was obligated to disclose any possible use of lead paint to the purchaser. Lead had been used as a paint additive for over 120 years before it was proven to be associated with health problems in approximately 1978. That year, the use of lead in paint was effectively banned. It was not until 1992 that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented a law establishing the requirement that if any lead-based paint was used in a home that fact had to be formally disclosed in writing to the buyer. There is no requirement to do any testing for lead paint, so following the letter of the law seems ridiculously easy follow. There are specified mandatory warnings for signature when lead paint may have been used, and an informational brochure is required to be provided to the buyer. The law applies to all homes built before 1978. Homes built after that year are not affected by the certification requirement. Penalties for noncompliance with are severe, with substantial fines and imprisonment. Over and above the Federal government requirements, some states require abatement -- covering or elimination -- of lead paint.
The presence of lead paint in the home can expose the family to lead poisoning. Children under six have the highest risk of getting poisoned from lead paint because growing bodies absorb many of the minerals to which they are exposed, whether it is calcium which is vital for growth, or something as toxic as lead. Chronically high levels of lead can lead to brain damage, behavioral problems, hearing loss, and damage to the nervous system. These problems can occur in adults and children, and additionally in the case of children, growth can be impaired.
Any home built before 1978 that has cracked, flaking, or chipped paint should be treated as a hazard. The paint should be repaired as a high priority. If lead paint was used around window or door frames, opening and closing these things may be making a surprisingly large amount of dust containing lead. Lead dust is potentially hazardous and can be very difficult to get rid of. Normal vacuuming and dusting can cause the lead dust to get back into the air and dust will be kicked up whenever you move around.
In order to find out whether your home has a lead paint problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that every home built before 1978 receive a paint inspection done by a professional. That will let the homeowner determine the lead content of every painted surface in the home and will uncover any areas of serious lead contamination.
Although there are kits available that let homeowners test themselves, a professional inspection is recommended to discover problems that may be missed by the untrained eye. A professional inspector will be able to provide the right information to guide your decision on how to protect your family and those around you, beyond the basic requirements of disclosure when the home goes up for sale.