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High Country Real Estate: Lead Based Paint in Real Estate

By John Thomas, REALTOR, Blue Ridge Realty & Investments

Lead is a naturally occurring element in the earth. It’s symbol is Pb on the Periodic Table of Elements and it’s atomic number is 82. It is a soft metal, dense, yet malleable, ductile but corrosion resistant. Lead has a relatively low melting point making it an ideal metal for industrial and manufacturing uses. Today, lead is used for radiation shielding, for making ammunition for firearms, in the automotive industry to manufacture batteries, as coolant, as fishing sinkers, and a myriad of other uses, both functional and fun.

Prior to the 20th century’s discovery of the metal’s toxicity to human’s lead was even more widely used…cosmetics, solder, gasoline, and pipes. As a matter of fact, an article on the website Scienceby Thomas Sumner notes there are some scientists who theorized the fall of ancient Rome may have had a helping hand from lead poisoning of the elite. The poisoning occurred from drinks cooked in lead vessels and spring water brought into their homes through lead pipes. Ultimately, the water was shown to have 100 times more lead than the local spring water but that was still not enough lead to cause significant harm, so lead gets a pass on the fall of the Roman Empire. 

Where lead does not get a pass is in homes built prior to 1978. Or, at least, not all of them. 

Prior to 1978 it was quite common for household paint, both exterior and interior, to have a lead base. However, once the toxicity of lead to human beings was discovered, lead was no longer used in household paints.

Federal law requires that sellers and landlords disclose any known information on lead based paint or lead based paint hazards to potential buyers or tenants. Real Estate contracts must contain a specific warning statement about lead-based paint; Leases must include a specific warning statement about lead based paint, as well. The Lead Based Paint Disclosure signed by both seller(s) and buyer(s), as well as their real estate agents must be made a part of the sales contract, again, per federal law.

Lead based paint poses the most risk to children under the age of 6 and pregnant women. Lead dust can be breathed in if it has been disturbed. OR swallowed if it has settled on food or food preparation surfaces. Or if paint chips or soil containing lead are consumed.

But if lead based paint is in good condition, it is usually not a hazard. To maintain good condition of lead based paint in homes built prior to 1978, the EPA recommends following:

  • Keep painted surfaces clean. The EPA recommends using a sponge or mop with warm water and general all purpose cleaner to clean floors, window sills and frames, and other surfaces weekly. Thoroughly and often rinse sponges and mopheads during and after cleaning.
  • Especially keep food prep surfaces and play areas clean.
  • NEVER let children chew on window sills (don’t laugh, if you’ve ever seen a teething toddler, you know they WILL do it).
  • Frequently wash your hands and your children’s hands; especially before meals and at bedtime.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home
  • Make sure you and your children eat nutritious meals high in iron and calcium (think dairy products and spinach). People with good diets absorb less lead.
  • If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.

Most importantly, if you decide to renovate do not try to deal with lead based paint yourself. Hire a contractor who is EPA or state certified in lead abatement. Your health and your family’s health is worth it!