The most common cause of lead poisoning in Maine is dust from lead paint. About 80% of all Maine homes and apartments built before 1978 could have some lead paint in them. Homes built before 1950 are the most likely to have leaded paint. Lead can be found both inside and outside of a building, and in the soil adjacent to a structure. Lead dust can be created through normal activities like opening and closing windows, or disturbing painted surfaces during renovations. (Other sources include water, marine paint, batteries, materials used for some hobbies, occupational hazards, sinkers and weights, pottery, foreign jewelry, and antique painted furniture.)
Lead enters the body through ingestion (touching your mouth with hands that are covered with lead dust) or less commonly inhalation when lead is burned, scraped, or sanded.
Children under the age of 6 (six) are at the highest risk of lead poisoning because:
- They have more hand to mouth activity
- They play on floors where lead dust settles.
- Their nervous systems are still developing.
Lead is a poison that attacks the nervous system. The effects of lead on a child can be particularly severe. Children exposed to lead can experience decreased growth, hyper-activity, impaired hearing, behavioral problems and learning disabilities, and in extreme cases, death. Even very small amounts of lead can cause behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, reproductive problems (both men and women), high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.
Most children experience NO symptoms of lead poisoning. Adults may have tingles and numbness, headaches, and forgetfulness. POSSIBLE symptoms for kids may include: stomachache, headaches, loss of appetite, reduced attention span, tiredness.
If your property was built prior to 1978, you should assume that it has at least some lead paint. If you are unsure of which surfaces contain lead and which do not, you can hire a licensed lead inspector who can test your painted surfaces with a portable X-ray fluorescence machine. For spot testing, “do it yourself” lead check kits are available at your local hardware store. If these show a positive result, you know you have lead. Do it yourself kits may not detect low levels of lead. (Even very small amounts of lead are sufficient to poison a child.)Click here for Maine CDC’s Tip Sheet on Testing for Lead.
Lead Screening for Children:
Lead screening for children is easy and inexpensive. Maine’s lead screening rates have been increasing, but there are still many children who are missed. Almost 120 Maine children are found to have elevated lead levels each year, and the average blood lead level for Maine children is twice as high as the national level. If your child lives or plays in or around a property built before 1978, request (insist on) a lead screening from your physician.
General Tips for a Lead-Safe Home
There are some simple and easy ways to keep a building lead-safe for its occupants:
1. Keep Paint in Good Shape
- Check often for peeling paint
- Inspect for water damage that can make paint peel
- Fix problems as soon as possible
2. Work safely and clean up if you paint or repair
- Seal off the work space and keep children and pregnant women away from the area
- Cover doors, windows, vents, floors and furniture with heavy plastic. If possible, remove furniture from the room
- Mist the paint with water before you sand or scrape and continue misting as you work to control lead dust
- Clean up your work area carefully by using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, followed by washing with soap and water, and rinsing with fresh water. Dispose of all trash and debris in heavy plastic bags
3. Keep your home free of lead dust
- Wash floors and window sills often with soap and water and use fresh water to rinse
- Use a vacuum, preferably with a HEPA filter. A broom or carpet sweeper will not remove lead dust
4. Watch where your children play outside
- Look for areas with grass or other safe coverings
- Avoid bare soil
5. Test your child for lead
- Children may not show signs of poisoning. Contact your physician to arrange for an easy screening.
Preventing Lead Poisoning as a Result of Renovations
Fact: home renovations can produce a lot of lead dust very quickly, and are responsible for many of the childhood lead poisonings in Maine each year.
Because large amounts of dust are creating during the typical renovation process, property owners should take special precautions when remodeling or renovating a building, especially if the work includes removing paint or otherwise disturbing painted surfaces. Using safe work practices will protect both you and the building occupants.
If you are hiring a contractor to do work for you, insist on a contractor who has had EPA’s “Renovation Repair and Painting” Training. Ask to see their certification. This ensures they have been trained on lead safe renovation.
Some simple tips to prevent exposure to lead during renovations:
Before the work begins:
- Check the paint surfaces for lead
- Cover interior and exterior exposed areas with plastic sheeting.
- Turn off forced-air heating and air conditioning systems
- Keep all non-workers, especially children, pregnant women and pets outside of the work area
- Break large projects into several small projects so that you can control the amount of lead dust created. Clean up after each phase of the project
- Wear a properly fitted respiration equipped with HEPA filters
- Wear protective clothing, such as coveralls, shoe covers, goggles, and gloves to keep dust off your skin. Launder these items separately
- Whenever possible, “work wet” to reduce dust. Use spray bottles, sanding sponges.
- Do not eat, smoke or drink in the work area to avoid accidentally swallowing lead dust.
- Do not dry-sand, blast or power-wash to remove lead-based paint
- Do not use high-temperature heat guns or open flames on lead-based paint
After the Work is Completed:
- Remove plastic sheeting by rolling or folding inward
- Wrap construction debris with plastic
- Vacuum exposed areas with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner
- Wash exposed areas with a general all-purpose cleaner or lead-specific cleaning product
- Change your clothes and shoes before leaving the work area to avoid carrying lead dust throughout the building
- Machine wash your work clothes separately from other family laundry
- Shower and wash hair right after finishing work to reduce dust contamination
- Test areas for lead dust contamination after final cleanup.
Lead Paint Removal
If the original lead paint is in good condition (no cracking, flaking), it is recommended that you do not attempt to remove or disturb it. Seal the lead paint with a newer paint product. Do not dry sand or scrape before painting.
If the original lead paint is cracking and flaking, consider hiring a certified lead abatement professional to remove or stabilize the paint. These contractors have extensive training about handling lead paint safely. If you plan to do the work yourself, contact the Department of Environmental Protection Lead Program (287-7751) for information on how to work safely or to find a class on lead-safe work methods.
Health Questions (blood lead testing, education, and medical treatment):
Maine Department of Human Services Childhood Lead Poisoning Program
Toll free at 866-292-3474
Services: health questions, blood testing for lead, education and case management
Environmental Questions (home lead testing, reducing lead hazards, renovation/remodeling safety practices)
Maine Department of Environmental Protection Lead Licensing and Enforcement Program
Services: home lead testing information, ways to reduce lead hazards, renovation and remodeling safety practices, and a list of licensed lead inspectors.
Housing Questions (loans/grants, Community Action Program services)
Maine State Housing Authority
Services: Provides funding assistance for income eligible homeowners to undertake lead hazard control measures. MSHA further operates a Lead Hazard Control Program through four regional Community Action Program (CAP) Agencies. Provides free spot check lead test kits.
Regional CAP Agencies (Lead Hazard Control Program)
Aroostook County Action Program
Community Concepts, Inc. (Oxford County)
Penquis Community Action Program (Penobscot County)
Washington-Hancock Community Agency
good general information, plus lots of on-line brochure resources.
National Safety Council: Lead Fact Sheet
U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
Worker and workplace safety issues of lead
HUD’s Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Program
general information about federal regulations and requirements