Everyone knows that the heavy metal lead is highly toxic, even if you only get it on your skin. Of course ingesting it is even worse, and very small children unfortunately have a tendency to put everything in their mouths – even lead paint chips. Exposing a small person like an infant, for example, to lead increases the proportion of toxicity, too, since their body is so small that any amount of poison inside it will have a magnified negative impact.
The standard home buyer inspection is not meant to be an invasive inspection, but is instead a general inspection of the structural and mechanical components and systems of the home. Should that inspection reveal something that warrants further study, then the inspector will mention that in the written report.
That’s why when a home inspector detects signs of lead-based paint it is important that you heed the warnings and recommendations. How do you do that? The next step is for you to contact a qualified and trained environmental inspector who specializes in identifying toxic hazards such as lead paint.
The identification process is critical, because it is a form of diagnosis. Just as your physician will check out the external symptoms you have to determine the underlying cause – and see if you have a mild condition or a serious disease – the environmental inspector will do the same for your home. The general inspector may have spotted the telltale signs of think paint under the surface peeling and curling, for example, which is how lead paint often reacts. Because the top coats of paint that were put on later – after lead paint was made illegal, for instance – are made of incompatible chemical ingredients they don’t adhere properly. So over time the paint peels and curls.
But does that mean there is lead present? Only a more scientific test will tell, because sometimes paint peels because of exposure to UV rays or because someone put oil paint over latex or vice-versa. The environmental inspector knows how to test the paint, and will remove a chip and either test it on site or send it to a laboratory. If the results confirm that there is no lead in your paint, then you probably just need to repaint that section of the house – or if it’s extensive the whole home may need a paint job. The cost and work needed to remedy the problem is something you can negotiate between the buyer and the seller.
If the paint does test positive for lead, however, then you have an environmentally sensitive and potentially very expensive project on your hands. The lead paint – which may be covered by many other layers of more recent paint – has to be completely removed. But you cannot simply sand it off; you must also capture all of that removed paint and dispose of it according to strict environmental laws. Otherwise if you let the paint dust and chips fall to the ground they can contaminate the dirt around your home – which just shifts the problem to another location.
In most cases the buyer will not want to incur this kind of responsibility and major project. The homeowner will need to work with local municipal building inspectors and have a team of qualified hazardous material removers come and scrape off the old lead paint and dispose of it. Then they can repaint the affected area with safe, proper paint. Afterwards a follow-up inspection should be done – including testing, if necessary – to make sure that all the troublesome lead is gone and that the home is safe from contamination.