Lead and Asbestos Removal from Your Home: How to Cope with Household Contaminants

In most cases, it's best to call in the professionals to keep your home safe from lead and asbestos, including testing and removal of contaminant sources.

| May/June 1989


Careless removal of lead or asbestos can increase the risk of exposure and subsequent health hazards for house occupants.


Often as not, the simplest, most effective method of alleviating an environmental hazard in the home is to remove the offending substance. In the case of two major household contaminants, however, this isn't as easy or safe as it may sound. Careless lead or asbestos removal can dramatically increase, not reduce, the hazard to you and subsequent occupants of the house.

Household Sources of Lead

There are two main sources of household lead: lead-based paint and plumbing solder. Both uses of lead have been banned—since 1978 in the case of paint, and since 1987 for copper plumbing systems—but many (if not most) houses have some lead sources. A common misconception is that lead-based paint was used only on the exteriors of houses. In fact, until the hazards began to become clear in the late 1950s, lead in paint was costly and considered an indicator of quality. Inexpensive homes might have had it only on their exteriors, while fancier houses might have had lead-painted woodwork in all areas where moisture could be a problem: especially windows and window frames, but also kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and associated trim.

Health Hazards of Lead

Though the hazards of lead have been well documented for some time, the lower limit at which problems occur has been under almost constant revision for over a decade—always downward. In 1975, the Centers for Disease Control defined an elevated blood lead level as 40 or more micrograms per deciliter blood; in 1978, they reduced that to 30; in 1985 the level was cut to 25; and this year it will probably go down to 20 or even 15.

Lead is most hazardous to the fetus and to children. In the immature, it causes anemia, birth defects, damage to the kidneys and stomach, hyperactivity, poor balance, learning disabilities and retardation. In adults, it can cause kidney damage, hypertension, reproductive dysfunction and other neurological/physical symptoms. In addition, lead becomes lodged in bone over time and may be the cause of age-related mental problems when bone deteriorates and releases it.

How widespread is lead poisoning? That isn't clear, because lead has received much less attention from regulators than many other indoor pollutants. There are few regulations concerning lead. The federal government has no actual standards and doesn't consider it to be hazardous waste for disposal purposes. At this time, however, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is in the process of developing guidelines.

Lead Testing

What should you do about lead? If your home was built prior to the mid-1970s, you should have paint samples (indoors and out) analyzed for lead. And if you have copper plumbing installed prior to 1987, you should have your water tested for lead.

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9/8/2015 2:39:53 PM

It seems like something important to know about how some house are built with lead and asbestos. Is there by chance a machine or some other way to detect for signs of asbestos within a home? I'm somewhat curious about the basement of my home since it was constructed just like the other homes in my neighborhood that used to have signs of these hazardous stuff. http://mendelssohnconstructions.com.au/sample-page/

4/16/2015 3:13:06 PM

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