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Alameda County, CA,

Larry Brooks
Healthy Homes Department
Including the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

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Possible Sources of Lead


Lead-based Paint

Lead-based paint can be one of the most common sources of lead in homes. Lead-based paint for residential use was banned in 1978. Many homes built before that year have layers of older lead-based paint underneath newer paint layers. The main reason that lead was added to paint before 1978 was to make the paint last longer. Lead-based paint was used most heavily before the 1950's.

When lead-based paint deteriorates, it can create lead hazards. One obvious sign is chipping or peeling paint. Children can then swallow these paint chips and become exposed. Deteriorating paint can also create lead dust. Lead dust isn't always visible, but it can get on children's hands and toys and eventually make its way into their mouths. If you're concerned that this might be happening, you can have your child tested for lead.

Doors and windows painted with lead-based paint can create lead dust as they are opened and closed. Floors and stairs painted with lead-based paint can have chipping paint and lead dust created by the impact of people's feet. Older items of furniture, such as tables or baby cribs, were sometimes painted with lead paint. Furniture with lead paint can be hazardous to children.

Paint and dust can be tested by sending samples to a laboratory or by hiring a certified professional. Doing a visual assessment of your home (see below) can help you identify spots that should be tested. Home lead tests are available, but their results are more qualitative than the methods mentioned above.

According to HUD and the California Department of Health Services, the standard for lead-based paint is 5000 ppm (by laboratory analysis) or 1.0 mg/square centimeter (by XRF analysis). Even paint that doesn't meet this standard as lead-based paint can still have some lead in it. That means that lead hazards can still be created if work that disturbs paint isn't done in a lead-safe manner.

If you own a home or apartment building built before 1978 in Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville or Oakland, there are free services available to help prevent and address lead hazards. The safest approach to lead-based paint is to keep the paint on the inside and outside of your home intact. When repainting and touch ups are necessary, use lead-safe painting strategies. Dry scraping, sanding and burning paint are NOT lead-safe. Proper containment is critical.

Mopping regularly and wiping down horizontal surfaces like window sills are key activities in maintaining a lead-safe home. This type of regular cleaning removes invisible lead dust that could harm young children.

Visual Assessment

Visual assessments are conducted to locate potential lead-based paint hazards and evaluate the magnitude of the hazards.

Assessments should identify:

  • deteriorating painted surfaces
  • areas of visible dust accumulation
  • areas of bare soil
  • painted surfaces that are impact points or subject to friction
  • painted surfaces on which a child may have chewed

Information from the visual assessment should be used to:

  • determine where environmental samples will be collected
  • define in a preliminary way the extent of the lead hazard control efforts needed
  • predict the efficacy of the various hazard control options given current maintenance practices
  • determine housing conditions (such as water leaks) that, if not corrected, could lead to paint deterioration

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