How to test paint chips for lead
In houses which are over thirty years old, the possibility of finding that paint has lead in it is increased. Popular formats of paint contained lead pre-1978, and this was considered normal for that time. However, with the potential for lead poisoning, lead paint has been discovered as a potential poison. This is particularly dangerous in the nursery area of a home, but a home which has children should be protected in all areas, so that children and pets are safe. Toys and furniture items fabricated previous to these dates should also be tested, as should imported goods which were not provided with the normal safety seals recognized as setting acceptable standards for modern day use.
Areas which should be checked.
The baseboard is one of the most dangerous areas. At baby level, this is an area which children come into contact with easily. Other areas include the jambs of doors, doors themselves, picture rails, kitchen units, and indeed any area which was painted prior to 1980. This safeguards against the possible use by previous owners of old paint which was considered to have too high a level of lead.
Home tests are limited, and although these may indicate that lead is present, do not give sufficient information to a home owner to make their home safe, since levels are not detected. It is therefore a wise precaution to have professional tests done, either by a specialist firm who will also give a thorough report, or by taking samples and sending these to a qualified laboratory.
For this process you will need sealable plastic bags such as freezer bags, though in small format. You will also need sticky labels and a pen to label each sample taken. Masking tape is also essential since this allows the plastic bag to be taped beneath the area where a paint chipping is taken, to ensure that debris is not permitted to go onto the floor area. This is vital since children will eat small items they find on floor areas. You will also need a packet of wood filler and a spatula for applying it.
The tools needed for the job are a sharp chisel and an old craft knife which is disposable after the testing is finished.
Tape the plastic bag beneath the area to be tested. Dig the chisel into the paintwork. It should be a deep enough gouge to include undercoats which are on the surface. It won’t matter if a hole is made, since this can easily be filled during the decoration process and will not show. Collect the chips of paint into the plastic bag, and seal it and label it with the place the sample was taken, being very specific so that the location of lead can be established easily after the tests are done.
As a safety measure, use filler in the area where you have gouged out the sample straight away, since this will help protect children from exposed lead.
Always wash your hands after this procedure to avoid lead poisoning and never handle children with potentially contaminated hands.
Sending it to the laboratory
Find out from your health department where recognized laboratories are located. These must be registered laboratories. Make sure that all the labels are clear and numbered, and make a list so that you know which number relates to which location, and keep this list in a safe place.
Call the laboratory to confirm the exact postal address for samples, and ask the price. This is usually modest though can vary a little. Enclose the fee with the samples, and ensure that your address is clearly shown and the sample bags stapled to the letter together with a return envelope for the results.
Hiring specialists to take the tests
Your local authority will have a list of qualified specialists who can perform the tests for you. These are firms who know what they are doing, and who will provide a full report. Although this may be expensive, they do have specialist equipment and may be a good idea for homes which have many areas of potential hazard.
If the results come back as positive and give levels which are dangerous, all family members should have blood tests to determine the level of lead in their system. It is also wise to employ professionals to remove the lead and to decorate the area affected. If doing this yourself, please do refer to the local health department for guidelines.
It is never worth risking the health of family and children in particular by having paint which presents a health hazard. Getting it tested is relatively easy, and gives the householder peace of mind. That small inconvenience is certainly worthwhile when considering the risks involved in having lead present within the home.