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childhood lead poisoning prevention branch


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Why should I test my home for lead?

If you have children, lead in your home can cause serious long term health and behavior problems for them. Lead is a hazard to children under 6 years of age in particular. Lead in paint, dust, and soil is a problem for children because it gets in their bodies when they put their fingers, toys, or paint chips or dust into their mouths. Lead can also harm a pregnant woman and her developing fetus.

You should consider testing for lead if there are children in your home and:

  • Your house was built before 1978, or
  • Your house is near a freeway or busy roadway where leaded gasoline and its exhaust may have polluted the soil with lead.

If your house was built before 1978, it is especially important to test for lead if:

  • Your house has peeling or chipping paint.
  • Your house has bare soil in the yard where children play.
  • You plan to repaint, remodel, or renovate the house.
  • A child living in the house has had a blood lead test result indicating lead exposure.
  • Your house was built before 1950 - such homes almost always have some lead-based paint.

If you are buying or renting a home:

  • Federal laws require the seller to give you an informational pamphlet and to tell you about any known lead hazards in the home. (These federal laws also give home buyers 10 days to inspect for lead. The law does not require landlords to allow a renter to inspect for lead.)

Where should I test for lead?

The most important areas to test for lead are those areas where children spend a lot of time, such as bedrooms, playrooms, kitchens, and play-yards. It is especially important to test these areas if there is bare soil or if paint is peeling or chipping.

You should also test places where you plan to repaint or remodel. Test several different spots. If you are testing paint, test each different paint color. If you are testing soil, test different bare soil areas.

Some good places to test for lead-based paint are:

  • Window frames and sills
  • Doors, door jambs, and thresholds
  • Trim and siding
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Painted children's furniture
  • Baseboards

Some good places to test for lead-contaminated soil are:

  • Around the foundation of the house
  • Where children play
  • Unpaved pathways
  • Under windows or walls with peeling or chipping paint
  • Where pets play or rest
  • Areas near traffic 

How do I test for lead?

There are two recommended ways to test your home for lead. Whenever you test for lead, it is important to find out how much lead is in the paint or soil you test.

  • Get a laboratory analysis: For $25 - $50, you can have a paint chip or soil sample tested by an accredited laboratory and get reliable results in 24 - 48 hours. Call the laboratory for details before you mail them your samples. Keep a sketch or list of the locations where you take samples.

    • Taking A Paint Sample : Tape a clean, plastic sandwich bag underneath some paint you want to test. Use a clean, sharp chisel or scraper to scrape a tablespoon size amount of paint into the bag. Try to scrape off all the layers of paint, not just the top coats - lead is often in the bottom layer of paint. Try not to scrape off any of the wood or plaster that is under the paint. Seal the bag and label it. On the label, write where the sample was taken (example: Sample #1 - kitchen window sill). Wash your hands and the scraper with soap and water after each paint sample you take.
    • Taking A Soil Sample : Using a clean trowel or large spoon, scoop about half a cup of soil from the top inch of the bare soil you want to test. Try not to scoop up plant leaves, roots, or other large pieces of debris. If there are paint chips in the soil, it is OK to include them in the sample. Place the soil into a clean, plastic sandwich bag. Seal the bag and label it. On the label, write where the sample was taken (example: Sample # 2 - under children's swing set). Wash your hands and the spoon with soap and water after each soil sample you take.
  • Hire a Certified Inspector/Assessor: You can hire a State-certified Inspector/Assessor to inspect your home for lead. Obtain at least two or three bids for a cost estimate of the work. Ask the Inspector/Assessor to write you a risk assessment report that will tell you if the lead levels in your home represent a hazard and what options you have for dealing with it.

    The certified Inspector/Assessor can test your paint with an XRF (x-ray fluorescence) machine, for immediate results. He or she can also send paint, dust, and soil samples to a laboratory for testing. Make sure the Inspector/Assessor gives you a sketch or a description of where the samples were taken.

For a list of State-certified Inspector/Assessors, go to the State-certified Inspector/Assessor page on this site.

How can I tell if I have lead above the hazard level in my paint or soil?

The table below shows hazard levels of lead in paint, soil and dust, as determined by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) may have different hazard level definitions.

​Lead in Paint Hazard Levels Lead in Bare Soil Hazard Levels​ ​Lead in Dust Hazard Levels
  • ​Lab test results of 5,000 ppm (parts per million) or more, or 0.5% or more (by weight)
  • XRF test results of 1.0 milligrams of lead per square centimeter (1.0 mg/cm2 ) or more
  • ​Lab test results of 400 ppm or more in bare soil in areas where children play
  • Lab test results of 1,000 ppm or more in all other areas
  • ​Dust from interior floors with 40 micrograms of lead per square foot (40 mcg/ft2) or more
  • Dust from interior horizontal surfaces with 250 micrograms of lead per square foot (250 mcg/ft2) or more
  • Dust from exterior floors and exterior horizontal window surfaces with 400 micrograms of lead per square foot (400 mcg/ft2) or more

​​Important: No matter what your test results are, the condition of your house's paint and soil is important. If the soil is covered by grass, bushes or permanent ground coverings, even high levels of lead in the soil may not be hazardous to children. If you are not planning to remodel and the paint is in good condition - not chipping or peeling - it may not be a lead hazard, even if it contains high levels of lead. If the paint is peeling or chipping, if it is on doors and windows where normal wear and tear causes chipping, or if you plan to remodel the area, you should take steps to prevent the lead from poisoning your children.

Warning: Lead test results are only as good as your testing procedures. The results will not tell you about the lead content of painted surfaces or soil that you did not test. Hire a State-certified Inspector/Assessor to make sure you get accurate testing results.

Can I just use a lead test kit from a paint store?

Kits for testing paint and ceramics are available at most paint and hardware stores for $8 - 10. They have chemicals that change color when rubbed against a surface that contains lead.

  • These kits can only tell you if there is lead in the paint you tested.
  • They will not tell you how much lead is in the paint or if it is a hazard.
  • You can not use them to test for lead in soil.

If you decide to use a lead test kit to test your paint, follow the directions on the package very carefully. Be sure to test the bottom layers of paint. To do this, use a sharp knife to cut a slanted notch through all the paint layers on the spot you want to test. Test all the layers of paint in the notch. Look for the color change indicated by the test kit.

If your house was built before 1978 and your lead test kit comes out negative (does not change color), you should have an accredited lab test the paint to make sure the lead test kit worked properly. Paint on structures built prior to 1978 is legally presumed to be lead-based, unless a state-certified Inspector/Assessor has quantitative testing to show otherwise.

What should I do next?

If the lead in your paint or soil exceeds the hazard levels listed above, you should:

  • Contact your family doctor or your local health department and get blood lead tests for your children who are 6 years of age or under.  Discuss whether other family members should be tested. 
  • Find out about everyday things you can do to prevent lead poisoning.
  • Consider hiring a State-certified lead Inspector/Assessor to inspect your home for lead.
  • Hire a State-certified lead contractor to reduce the lead hazards in your home and yard.
  • If you plan to repaint or remodel your home, hire a State-certified lead contractor. If you plan to do the work yourself, get the EPA's free how-to booklet, Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home (PDF) and contact your local health department to find out about lead-safe work practices to prevent poisoning yourself or your children.

If you are concerned about unsafe lead work creating a hazard, contact your local building department (PDF) or local health department lead program.

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