Dear Angie: My husband and I are expecting a baby. We used a home test to check for lead in chipping exterior paint around our home's windows, and it came back positive. We can't afford to de-lead the entire house right now. What do you suggest? — Jennifer A., Needham, Mass.
Dear Jennifer: You are wise to be concerned. Lead poses a serious health danger, especially for developing fetuses and young children. It doesn't take much lead dust in your home or lead in soil or water to make a child sick, and the possible effects, including behavior and learning problems, are permanent.
Old paint is a significant source of potential lead poisoning. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say as many as 24 million homes built before 1978 contain some amount of deteriorated lead paint.
I can't tell you exactly what it will take to make sure your home is safe for you and your developing baby, but I can stress how important it is that you educate yourself. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website on lead, Epa.gov/lead, is a good place to start.
It's critical as well to be careful about anyone you hire to help you deal with a lead issue.
Federal lead regulations hold contractors responsible for following a strict protocol to minimize and contain lead dust during improvements on homes built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned in the United States.
The regulations are called the RRP Rule, short for Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. Since 2010, service providers who disturb lead paint in homes built before 1978 are required to get certification that they've completed an EPA or EPA-authorized training course.
Hiring a company that operates under the law is likely to be more expensive than hiring one that doesn't comply.
The EPA estimates that following proper lead procedures adds $35 to $376 to the cost of a job. One top-rated, EPA-certified service provider my team recently interviewed estimated that painting over lead paint costs 20 percent to 60 percent more than a typical paint job because of required equipment and steps, as well as the initial cost of certified training.
I think the extra cost is worth it, considering the tragic and preventable risks of lead poisoning. So please do your research and take the time to hire right. Talk to multiple contractors. Check online reviews. And insist on seeing certification of lead training; federal law requires certified companies to provide documentation.