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Home Improvement: Getting the Lead Paint Out

 By Michelle Bethune

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment.

A few years ago, I bought an amazing 1918 Craftsman-style home in Seattle. I didn’t think about lead paint, asbestos, or old wiring. My inspector said, “You may or may not have lead. You need a certified inspector to figure that out.” That was the end of it. None of the paint was chipping. My kids would not eat paint chips or chew on the windows, so I was satisfied.

Well, I decided to let my friend move in—a former friend now. Unfortunately, my friend was pretty messy. When the family left, the interior looked like someone took an abrasive sponge to the walls, and paint was chipping and peeling everywhere.

When I moved to Alaska, I decided to sell my home. STOP. RED FLAG! I was told that my house tested positive for lead-based paint, and that I could be held accountable if my friend’s child got lead poisoning from her time living in my house. UGH!

So, I started to do some research. What in the world was the big deal about lead-based paint, anyway? But what I found shocked me. Turns out, the human body cannot tell the difference between lead and calcium, so lead gets distributed throughout the body just like “good” minerals—iron, calcium and zinc. And just like calcium, lead eventually gets stored in the bones.

Lead is a poison for adults and children. It can cause the following health problems in adults:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fertility problems
  • Nerve disorders
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Irritability
  • Memory or concentration problems

The health impacts to children are even more serious. The Utah Department of Health recommends blood screening for children between one to two years of age, particularly if they live in a home is located in a zip code that has 27 percent pre-1950’s housing.

Exposure to even a small amount of lead can result in the following health issues for children:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Reduced IQ
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Behavioral problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Impaired hearing

Not sure if you have lead paint in your house? Hire a certified professional to evaluate your home. DAQ’s Lead-Based Paint Program web page offers a wide array of downloadable pamphlets on lead-safe home renovation, and how you can protect yourself and your family from lead in your home. We also have a list of certified lead-based paint firms that can help you safely remove lead paint from your home.

Lead is still a HUGE deal in this country. We need to make sure we protect our families when we renovate our homes. This is why I love my job. I am doing my part to keep homes—and families—healthy in Utah.

Live in Salt Lake County and need to remove lead-based paint in your home? You may be eligible for a grant through the Lead Safe Salt Lake Housing Program. The program, administered by Salt Lake County and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides grants to qualifying families to help them address lead hazards in homes built before 1978.
Michelle Bethune

I work for the Division of Air Quality as an environmental scientist. I run the Lead-Based Paint Program and have been with DEQ since April 2014. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. I moved to Utah three years ago from Alaska. I worked for an environmental consulting firm where I got to ride in helicopters to remote villages to supervise drilling operations in proposed gold mines. I LOVE to fish, ride roller coasters, hike and dream about laying on a beach somewhere warm and sunny!

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