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If your home was built before 1978, especially before 1960, it is very likely to have lead paint. Undisturbed paint with a smooth surface is not considered dangerous, and most lead paint has been covered with many layers of non-leaded paint. However, if the layered paint is loosened by water damage or pitted by the scrapes and dents of daily living, the old lead layers may become uncovered. Once exposed, the paint can deteriorate, and loose chips or flakes that fall on the floor can be ground underfoot into fine paint dust. Even finer dust, invisible to the eye, is created by the friction of opening and closing tight-fitting painted doors and windows. Loose paint and paint dust can poison both adults and children, and removing lead paint requires special methods to avoid creating even more lead dust. This brochure is intended to give you the information needed to protect yourself and your family from lead paint hazards.

Chips and Flakes:

The highest blood lead levels in small children are usually linked to eating lead paint chips, which are sweet tasting, often brightly colored, and can contain up to 50 percent lead. Chewing on lead-painted window sills or toys is also a source of lead poisoning. Flaking lead paint on outside walls can contaminate yard soil up to 10 or more feet from the house.

Begin by inspecting all your home’s painted surfaces carefully, indoors and out. Also inspect any other house or day care facility where your child spends time.

What to look for:     

  • Peeling paint, varnish, or glaze
  • Surface wear on the edge of a tight-fitting painted door or a stairway
  • Tooth marks on window sills and railings on stairways or cribs
  • Worn or chipped glaze on porcelain bathtubs, sinks, or ceramic tile
  • “Chalking,” a white, powdery coating that comes off on your hand

Pay special attention to windows and doors, stair treads and railings (including crib and porch rails), children’s furniture, cabinets, and baseboards.

Test for lead paint on areas with deteriorated paint, on intact painted surfaces that a child can reach, and on old or imported painted toys and ceramic cookware. Use a Lead Check swab (available in home stores or from online retailers for about $20 for a package of 8 swabs). Follow the directions carefully. On deteriorated surfaces, work the activated swab as far down into the paint layers as it will go—red color appearing on the swab tip indicates the presence of lead. To test several items with a single swab, let a few drops of liquid fall on each one. When you’re finished, wash off the test liquid with a household spray cleaner.

Paint Dust:

Household lead dust, which may contain paint dust, is the most common source of chronic childhood lead poisoning. To detect lead dust from soil as well as paint, use a D-Lead Test Kit for Dust.

First steps to protecting your family:

  1. Lead paint:
    • For damaged lead paint or varnish that a child can reach, especially on a window sill, you can cover it with heavy 2-inch tape such as Gorilla Tape. If possible, block access with furniture.
    • For deteriorated bathtub glaze, you can switch to showers. Small children can be bathed in a plastic container placed in the tub. For a longer-term solution, have the tub professionally re-glazed or replaced.
    • For deteriorated glaze in a kitchen sink, wash dishes in a dishpan and rinse them under running water.
    • For fine white “chalking” dust on otherwise intact paint, wash off the dust with a household cleaner. Wear rubber gloves, spray the surface well with household cleaner, and wipe carefully with disposable rags. A Swiffer mop may be used on the walls.
  2. Lead paint dust: For details and suggested resources, see the companion brochures “House Cleaning for Lead Safety” and “Lead in Soil and Dust.”
    • To prevent the formation of microscopic friction dust, avoid repeatedly opening and closing lead-painted windows or tight-fitting doors. If you open windows in warm weather, you can place an air filter behind a window fan. Use a 2-inch pleated, electrostatic air filter and wedge the fan tightly in the window track by extending its side pieces. Secure with a window lock or a one-inch dowel cut to fit between the sash and the upper frame.
    • Pick up paint chips with a wet paper towel after spraying the surface with household cleaner.
    • The finest lead dust sticks tightly to all surfaces and is best removed by a high-quality electrostatic disposable cloth, such as a Swiffer Dry Cloth. Dampen it with water to dust wood furniture, window sills, radiators, baseboards, and baseboard heaters.
    • Building demolition can create immense clouds of paint dust. If you become aware of demolition in your neighborhood, find out whether the contractor is following regulations that require notifying residents, using manual demolition methods, and controlling dust by wetting debris daily. If you don’t see evidence of dust control, close your windows and storm windows, then notify your neighbors and Philadelphia’s Air Management Services (215-685-7580).
    • If you become aware of a house fire in the neighborhood, keep windows tightly closed until the fire is under control.

Removing or repairing damaged lead paint requires special lead-safe techniques to control and contain the creation of toxic dust and debris.

  • Deteriorated paint covering more than six square feet per room should only be removed or repaired by a certified, licensed contractor who follows the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) lead-safe work practices.
  • If you are a property owner or landlord, you can find local EPA-certified contractors online at (Click on “Pennsylvania,” then “Philadelphia County.”) Or you can become RRP certified yourself by attending a local Accredited Renovation Training Program. (Training programs are listed here.)
  • Before hiring a contractor, ask for proof of certification. Make sure you are given a copy of the EPA brochure “Renovate Right,” and check regularly to make sure he is following the lead-safe practices listed there.
  • If you are a tenant with a child six years old or younger, by Pennsylvania law it is your landlord’s responsibility to ensure elimination of lead paint hazards in strict accordance with RRP rules.  

Do-it-yourself lead paint repair:

If you are a homeowner and the deteriorated area is six square feet or less per room—such as peeling paint on a window frame—you may repair it yourself, using a simplified version of RRP regulations. These include:

  • wetting painted surfaces before and during paint removal, and using wet-dry sandpaper.
  • covering floors and furniture with plastic sheeting for dust protection.
  • daily cleaning to prevent the spread of dust and loose paint.