Lead-based paint is a known health hazard. It is a major source of lead poisoning in children and can also adversely affect adults’ health. In children, lead poisoning may cause irreversible brain damage and impaired mental functioning. It can also retard mental and physical development and impair attention span, and it may even affect fetal development. In adults, lead poisoning can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, nerve damage, reproductive problems, and high blood pressure. Thus, infants, children, fetuses, and adults with high blood pressure are most vulnerable to lead poisoning.
Old and deteriorating houses are potential sources of lead paint. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and half of those built between 1940 and 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Even some homes built after 1960 contain lead-based paint. Communities with homes in these age brackets often offer screening programs, available through local public health departments, to check children for lead poisoning. Because early symptoms, including tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach upset, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation, are easily confused with other illnesses, medical testing may be necessary to accurately diagnose lead poisoning. Failure to promptly treat lead poisoning can result in permanent health damage.
In 1978, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reduced the maximum lead content in most kinds of paints to 0.06%, a trace amount. If your home was built before the 1980s, it may be wise to have the paint tested for lead before undertaking any remodeling or renovation, or if painted surfaces are deteriorating. Although do-it-yourself testing kits are available, the CPSC has not evaluated these kits, so it may be wiser to call in a professional tester or send a paint chip to a professional lab for testing. Lab tests cost from $20 to $50 per sample, but the investment may be worth it when your family’s health is at stake.
Although children are often exposed to lead paint by ingesting flakes or chips from peeling paint or by chewing on lead-painted surfaces, including old cribs and windowsills, one way adults may be exposed is by ingesting or inhaling the dust that is created when they are trying to remove lead paint. In other words, in attempting to alleviate the problem, they may actually be making it worse. It may be wise to call in a professional to rid your home of lead-based paint in order to ensure that you don’t inadvertently expose your family to greater danger when you are actually trying to eliminate a hazard.
If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered lead poisoning as a result of exposure to lead-based paint, seek medical advice at once. Early treatment is essential in order to stave off more serious long-term consequences. It may also be in your best interests to consult with an attorney to determine whether your legal rights have been violated and whether you may have a lawsuit against, for instance, a landlord for failure to maintain safe premises or a paint manufacturer for providing an unsafe product. Only with the assistance of experienced counsel can you be sure to best protect your interests. Note that in 2005 an Illinois appeals court upheld the dismissal of a public-nuisance-based lawsuit brought by Chicago officials against the former manufacturers of lead-based paint, finding that makers of a legal product years ago for use in house paint cannot now be held liable for creating a public nuisance. Similar public-nuisance claims have been dismissed in California and New Jersey. In Illinois, the state Legislature has enacted a statute that places the responsibility upon landowners to remediate the effects of deteriorated lead-based paint.
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