Lead Paint and Pregnant Wife in Old House

RuferJuly 24, 2012


Long time researcher of these forums--first-time poster.

My wife and I recently purchased a nice old house in Washington DC. We haven't moved in yet and are planning to get renovations done before we do so. My wife is 5 months pregnant with our first.

Had an RDX lead test yesterday and am awaiting the final report but received word that there is lead paint throughout the windows, trim, baseboards, a radiator, and doors and casings on the top two floors.

I am now trying to decide how to proceed. We have old windows that could be fully functional with enough effort and time (which we don't have). I would hate to replace all of this nice old stuff but as I am typing this I am thinking it may be the best option. Particularly with regard to "points of friction". Maybe the doors can be salvaged but I am thinking no on the windows.

I am freaking out now (as I am sure most first-time parents are at this stage of the game) to even have my wife visit the house now. Had the carpets ripped up a couple of weeks ago and have yet to clean up any lingering debris which could (must?) contain lead in the dust.

Looking for opinions. Thanks.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I also own an old house in DC and never had it tested for lead. I assumed that it was full of lead, just like the houses that all of us grew up in without significant harm. Lead is a problem if it is flaking and if it is eaten. So just keep your trim painted and you'll be fine.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 4:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm not sure I understand the issue. Many, many people live in old houses that contain lead from various sources. As long as you don't go around eating lead paint chips, you will be fine.

Also, if you don't have the time or effort to fix up the old windows, why are you even considering keeping them? It sounds like your decision is made.

I'm just not sure what the issue is. Like I said, make sure she doesn't eat the lead paint and she'll be fine.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 6:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You see, that's just the thing. I can't keep my wife away from the paint chips. She eats 'em like popcorn.

But seriously, you don't understand the issue? Maybe the issue is overblown, maybe not. Reputable sources do warn about the dangers of lead to a finer degree than eating the paint chips. Dust is supposed to be a significant contributor to the problem. Dust is created when two surfaces rub against one another--ie on doors and windows.

Maybe I am getting nervous about nothing. But I have read (the internet is dangerous, I know) about infants and toddlers getting lead poisoning from environments with lead paint--presumably dust (we are very clean incidentally).

But yeah, I guess window replacements are in order. The trim will get a fresh coat. As for the doors and casements--that I am still trying to weigh.

Before acting like I am making much-ado about nothing, read this:

Here is a link that might be useful: DC's Lead Poisoning Problem from the Washingtonian

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 7:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What exactly has to be done to the windows ?

For those that do work - just be diligent about dusting surfaces, especially window sills.

If paint has to be stripped, sanded etc, you would need to follow lead precautions.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 8:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lead abatement is a gold mine for an entire industry of contractors and consultants who rotate in and out of government payrolls. The abatement process often causes massive lead poisoning for the inhabitants but that is not important because there is money to be made.

You can look at any map of any old city on the east cost to see where the lead poisoning cases are reported. In the Boston area, everything has lead paint, from the Roxbury ghetto to the multimillion dollars homes of the swells in Wellesley. Same type of houses, same age. Guess where lead poisoning is reported?

Incidentally, a woman was forced to spend six figures to de-lead her house after her daughter presented with high blood lead levels. Turns out it came from her toy bracelet. Oh well.

Use common sense, read critically and don't treat as gospel the words of people who are aching and salivating for access to your bank account.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 9:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Fori is not pleased

If you can get the repainting and sticky windows and doors done NOW, before baby arrives, you're golden.

Paint anything chippy or questionable. If doors or windows rub, have them sanded/planed/whatevered and then painted. Clean everything. Eat extra calcium. And then don't eat paint chips. :) But you don't need lead abatement. You need someone to fix sticky windows and paint 'em.

Do let your wife visit the house unless she's one of those prewar women we see in old movies that are completely helpless. :) I'm not saying you shouldn't vacuum first! But don't freak out. It's not really that bad. I haven't lived in a lead-free house since...um...there was one apartment in college that might have been new enough. I'm okay and so are my kids. Just being aware of the stuff and having some common sense ought to be enough unless your home is really trashed.

Oh--if there is a yard, test the dirt before baby plays in it. It can really build up outside a painted (and repainted) house.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 10:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Over the years, thousands of District children have been exposed to enough lead to cause brain damage. This is one likely but largely unrecognized reason why 12,000 District students are in special education and 86 percent of DC fourth-graders cannot read at grade level. The Washingtonian

Gimme a break!

And how exactly is the capitol of the Homeland different than any other large American city as far as having deadly ancient homes dating back to 1978?

Follow the guidelines from the link or any other reputable source. And keep in mind that lead in the water is a hazard too. Not just from lead pipes, but from any pipes using lead-based solder, which wasn't banned until 1986. Other sources of lead.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lead Poisoning Prevention, Mayo Clinic

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 12:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you do change out the windows and doors, for goodness sake, store them in the attic so they can be re-installed when you get over your first-baby, lead-paint, risk panic. Old windows can often be rehabbed back to equal, or even superior, energy efficiency as modern, short-lived, replacement ones.

Yes, you do need to take precautions when working (scraping, sanding, heat-stripping, etc.) with lead paint. But if it's covered by an intact coat of paint, then it is benign. It's not as if it creates vapors (absent being heated, of course) or death rays to brain cells while it is just lying on the woodwork looking pretty.

Chances are in an old house the lead paint is already gone (worn away) from meeting surfaces. (And it is not generally installed on the actual sliding surfaces, or shouldn't be, anyway.) Old doors generally don't fit tightly enough to create problems. If they do, a simple spot fix is all that's needed.

Fori is right, your greatest risk may be in the yard. Especially if you go in for urban veg growing, or the kids play in the dirt where leaded-gas fumes and exterior paint chips have accumulated over many years.

I'm not trying to belittle your fears; they are natural and common to your stage in life, compounded by the ubiquitous, earnest advice-promoting mentality of modern existence. None of us want to run unnecessary risks, but a lot of the alarmist stuff is about getting your eyeballs - and clicks - to sites for financial gain.

If it really makes you nuts, have the work done before you move in. (Save the sashes and doors if replaced.) Then have the place cleaned by a firm with lead experience. And buy yourselves a good true-HEPA vac and relax. You can have your blood lead levels checked, easily.

MY DH and I have lived in (and, worse, worked on while living in) an old house with tons of lead paint in various stages of decrepitude. He has his blood drawn fairly frequently for another un-lead related issue (3X/year). At least once a year I have them throw in a lead titer. Every result, over more than two decades is always below any range of concern. For various reasons I have occasionally had my indoor cats' blood drawn and have had them tested for lead as well. No problem for them, even though they lick their floor- and windowsill- contacting paws all day long. They refuse to allow me to claim they are my canaries in the coal mine, but that's essentially what they are, none the less.

Hope this helps put your risks (and anxieties) in perspective.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for all of the replies. I definitely appreciate the reassurance.

I was almost completely talked down off of the ledge and feeling great--was hoping to even keep the windows in place until I read this thread on this very site.

I probably shouldn't place too much weight in message board posts either way. It's just hard to make sense of all of this.

Here is a link that might be useful: Old Houses, Lead, and young kids.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Reputable sources do warn about the dangers of lead to a finer degree than eating the paint chips. Dust is supposed to be a significant contributor to the problem. Dust is created when two surfaces rub against one another--ie on doors and windows. "

You still have to ingest the dust.

Children may get dust on their hands and then into their mouth, it is not usually as much of a problem for adults past the hand-licking stage.

The actual level of lead in children's blood has been falling very nicely as the use of leaded gasoline was discontinued.

The EPA (like every Federal agency) must keep finding problems to remain relevant.
Ever notice that NO problem is ever actually solved?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Rufer, I understand your concerns. If you must replace the windows, I second the motion to save the originals. But what if you had the windows professionally restored a room at at time? Say you start with the nursery-to-be, then your bedroom or whatever room you feel would represent the most risk for exposure. We had ours restored professionally which included stripping the sash down to bare wood (off site), removing the lead threat. The price generally compares favorably with replacement, especially when you consider the quality of the product that you'll have in the end.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 10:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A large amount of the 'improvement' on new windows ceoms from better weatherstripping and sealing.

I have restored numerous old windows, replaced weights with spring balances (Pullman manufacturing), filled in pockets, added weatherstripping (Resource Conservation Technology) on all moving joints, caulked, and painted.

When muntin damage is restored carefully (I cannot count all the muntins gouged by the sash locks) the windows look like brand new.
And should last another couple hundred years (the age of a few of them is over 200 years).

Even without storms (historic area rules) the windows are sealed tightly.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 1:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm not sure Washingtonian would be my first source for rehab information - message boards with postings from people who have significant experience with your topic of concern would seem more trustworthy. It's not like the rest of us haven't thought about this ourselves.

I only read some of the article because already on the first page it was degenerating into the usual handwringing about the sorry state of the DC bureaucracy. I'd guess that for the magazine this issue is as much as anything just another vehicle for that fruitless complaining and handwringing. (But I might be a little cynical. I first moved to the DC area in 1976 and these alarms were already going on then.)

All that said, "Children under age two are at highest risk. Many toddlers are poisoned when they put their fingers in their mouths after crawling on a dusty floor." Easy enough to prevent as outline in other comments.

I'm going to venture a guess that most of the lead poisoning in DC kids is located where the housing is not well maintained, definitely not concentrated in NW or other gentrified areas where housing is nicely rehabbed and maintained.

The parts of windows that slide against one another generally are not and should not be painted.

When I was a little kid, definitely under 12, my mother engaged most of her many children, including me, all the others younger than I, in stripping all 9 layers of paint from at least 4 windows, a couple of doors, and a staircase with rail and bannister using the old-style super-harsh paint stripper, scraping and sanding, in our 1911 house. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS AS A CHILDHOOD ACTIVITY. I only mention it because most of us managed to maintain fairly solid IQs. (There are a couple of questionable brothers but I don't think they had been born at the time.)

I'll close with what my ob/gyn said when I asked about cat litter boxes in 1972: you can only sterilize your environment so much.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 7:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't know what kind of windows you have, but with doors at least you can strip the contact surfaces - the jamb and the door edge. Maybe also with windows.

I think that I would do that, encapsulate everything else you can for now under a fresh layer of paint, and test often.

The best line in the thread you linked to is "now I can worry about plastics etc" or something to that effect. If it isn't one thing, it's another. But do what you have to do for your peace of mind.

I never got my kids tested while raising them in an old house (from birth and 2 respectively), but we were aware of the hazard and took what care we could. Mind you, the original windows were long gone, we stripped the door jambs and don't have a lot of doors anyhow, and come to think of it, it might have been a good thing that we took off all the much-painted mouldings and baseboards and put them in the basement, to be stripped in re-installed as time allowed, which was not till the kids were in their teens (they're now circa 20). Living without mouldings 'bout drove me 'round the bend, but they've survived having a demented mother too :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 12:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have lead paint in our house (built 1936) too. We moved in when one kid was 6 months old and had another kid while living here. We looked into having windows replaced but just couldn't afford it (I was unwilling to get cheap vinyl windows). I've had the kids tested periodically, as recommended by pediatrician, and the *only* time there was ever any measurable lead in either child was right after we moved in: we had had the interior repainted, which included some sanding, and I'm sure that created some dust that my crawling baby then ingested. Her levels were still well below the level considered dangerous. Her level went back down to zero soon after that, and the second kid has never had any measurable lead even through the worst of the crawling/putting things in mouth phase.

I shared your panic, but have come to believe that doing renovation or sanding/removing the paint can be much more dangerous than just leaving things alone, as long as the paint is in good condition. If you can afford to get nice replacement windows that is the one thing you might consider just to ease your mind, but even with our original windows we've never had a problem. If the doors aren't sticking in any considerable way I would just leave them. Remember that if there's a good top coat of paint, the lead dust can't get out unless all the paint from the last 30 years gets chipped/rubbed off. If you do strip them, take them off their hinges and do it away from the property.

Some things we do to minimize any risk: In summer when we're opening/closing windows a lot, we wipe down the windowsills periodically to make sure there are no paint chips and to minimize dust. We got a vacuum with a HEPA filter. There are a couple of windows that are not in as good condition, and we just keep those shut all the time. And we always have our kids wash hands before meals/snacks, especially the younger one.

We did some renovation on a side porch and hired a company that specializes in lead abatement as the general contractor. All contractors are now supposed to be trained, but we didn't want to take any chances.

Good luck with your decisions and congratulations on the baby!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 9:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lalala's post reminds me - when it comes to stripping paint, or prepping to repaint, we simply NEVER sand. For stripping we use chemical stripper or heat/IR, we do it outside, and change/wash clothes immediately. For repainting, I clean the surface and paint over, and just hope for the best. I only sand filler or wood, I never sand paint. And ps, the kids are pretty bright.

Also the point that windows that don't open likely won't be generating dust.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 11:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I haven't read all the post and replies.. but I wanted to tell you that I have been restoring a 1937 home, and it was tested and confirmed for lead. This is not the first old house I have restored, and I never took precautions before. Anyway.. with all the info on lead, I tried to get a mask and stuff - but here in florida, it's hot and hard to breathe... so for months and months, I've been stripping, and sanding this lead paint. I started to get a little nervous, and went to the doctors for test poisoning test.. and I'm totally surprised.. just tiny, tiny trace of lead... I'm relieved!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 5:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lead can be absorbed thru the skin, so be careful if there is construction going on and your walking around in bare feet.
Common sense will prevail, I hope, as well as the other very informed posts.
Lead is still in our environment in more places than you'd like to think about, but in very small qty's.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 9:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have an 1825 lead infested house. DH and I did a lot of work ourselves including sanding and reglazing 30 6 over 6 windows. When working with lead paint we would shut off the room from the rest of the house with plastic. We would wear our "lead work clothes" only in this room. Depending on the work we would wear masks. Before leaving the room we would take off the clothes and then shower. Our work clothes would go twice thru the washer on hot. We would run the washer empty before the next load.

I became pregnant during this time and had our 2nd child. Her lead levels were normally between 2 - 3.5. We had the kids tested every 6 months. We temporarily moved out to Sacramento (Rocklin, CA) for 1.5 years to a 2 year old house in a new subdivision with new school, library, stores, day care, etc. My daughter's lead levels doubled and then some to around 7 or 8! When we moved back to our lead infested house her levels dropped down again. The doctor said her lead levels may have increased in CA from the water or air!

My greatest concern was the friction of the windows causing lead dust. The windows shouldn't be painted there but sometimes it is. This is where we put most of our effort. If you can't do this now maybe do 1 or 2 key rooms. Here in Boston you can hire a company to do this (plus mechanical restoration) for about $250/window. This may still be cheaper than buying new quality windows.

Our peditrician told us a story of a set of toddler twins. One would eat only healthy food - especially veggies from the garden. The other kid wanted only junk food and chicken nuggets and it was painful to get him to eat anything healthy. The healthy food child had very high lead levels (over 15) and the cause was the garden. Their garden had a high amount of lead paint from outside the house. The other child was fine.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 9:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Lead can be absorbed thru the skin,"

Not to any significant degree.

There are plenty of things to worry about, but metallic lead and larger organic lead molecules are not going through intact skin significantly.

One study went so far as to use lead acetate 9AKA 'sugar of lead') dissolved in water to finally get some through the skin.
The lead acetate in lead paint is bound into the carrier for the paint chemically.

You need at least some acid (stomach or lung fluid) to liberate it.

NOT a realistic threat at all.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 2:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You've gotten great advice here.

Don't sand ANYTHING. If you hire anyone to do the work for you, do not let THEM sand anything. Seriously the dust will make you crazy because you *think* it's dangerous, whether your wife has ingested it or not.

Wipe your windowsills frequently as raising and lowering the sashes can loosen dust. Meaning, don't let them sit for 6 months or a year; add it to your regular dusting routine and use damp cloths. Wipe your baseboards and doors too (as I'm sure you do anyway).

We closed on a house and then my first child was born a month early - so much for having time to move and settle in before baby. Her lead levels have always been fine and she has now lived in 3 houses, all built prior to 1890 and not a one had any "lead abatement" done.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 1:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I know that many people will disagree with what I am about to say but- we bought a 120 year old house in St. Louis and renovated it throughout my entire pregnancy. We did a lot of the work ourselves but were fortunate to have my grandpa and uncle who own a contracting company and have been in the business for many years help us out. Having done way too much research for my own good I was constantly freaking out about lead and asbestos, both of which were EVERYWHERE in our house. Long story short- lead paint was constantly being sanded, heat stripped and scraped in the house while I was there and low and behold, just as my grandpa promised, my baby was not born with 3 arms.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 4:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

so, lead. it is toxic and we all know it is toxic and has long-term effects. there is no arguing about that. the most typical pathway is ingestion.

generally, i am relatively unconcerned about adults living in a house with lead paint. adults don't eat off the floor or chew windowsills. they do, perhaps, pick up some object off the floor and then eat without washing their hands first. also, if there is a garden close to your house, where chips would fall in it. but, adults are big and developed and this amount of exposure typically isn't such a big deal.

Science has shown us that low-levels of lead exposure in pregnant women that wouldn't be a big deal otherwise can cause some neurological defects. Nothing obvious like a third arm, but something less obvious like a learning problem later in life. Or maybe the IQ is 125 instead of 130.

But, as adults, if we are aware of a potential risk we can avoid that risk. A pregnant woman living in a house with lead paint chips or lead paint on contact surfaces (door jambs, etc) should wash her hands frequently, particularly before eating. Vacuum more frequently than usual and frequently vacuum around window sills and doors.

If you exercise some caution, I don't see any reason to replace the windows and trim because you have a pregnant person in the house.

But by the time that baby becomes mobile, you do want to make sure that the lead issue has been taken care of.

How you do this is up to you.

You can have the windows replaced by a reputable contractor that follows lead-safe practices (this basically means they use a bunch of plastic sheeting) or you can start with the worst offenders and fix them yourself. If you do this, you want to make sure your work area is isolated and that you aren't making things worse by tracking paint chips and lead dust around. I'm really not going to get into how to do the work yourself, but focus on the doors and windows you use the most.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 1:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"the most typical pathway is ingestion. "

Ingestion means you get it into your body.

It is harmless outside your body.

Ingestion of a poison is the ONLY way it can be dangerous.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 4:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My sister lived in a house with lead paint. She kept it painted and maintained. None of her children had lead poisoning, until she sanded a bathroom herself w/o taking the proper precautions. She was not pregnant but her son was a toddler and he tested +. While he did not have a horrible reading, it was enough that the city came out, they had to take a class on fixing the issue, and then they resolved it themselves through doing the work.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

brickeyee - as a point of clarification, i was separating ingestion from inhalation. lead paint is rarely inhaled unless you are sanding. the lead particle is very heavy, it doesn't hang around in the air for long. the other pathway would be dermal (and you're right - still technically ingestion), which isn't a concern with regards to lead paint.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 8:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

" i was separating ingestion from inhalation"

They are NOT seperate.

Ingestion is ANY method that gets something into your body.

That is why the term ingestion is used instead of inhalation, consumption, eating, absorption, or another description.

Ingestion covers ALL mechanisms of the material entering the body.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 9:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Brickeyee - Not looking to derail the thread with squabbling on terminology, just want to make sure the OP knows that I was talking about INGESTION BY THE MOUTH

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 11:26AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Color advice for new front door
I am buying a new front door (textured steel) to replace...
Strip flooring with unusual cross section
(Cross posted from Flooring forum) I'm renovating a...
Sanity check: Huge window & shutter repair/replace bill?
Hey folks! I am the proud new-ish owner of 1740s brick...
interesting plaster job - what to do to fix it?
I'm doing some work in my dining room that includes...
Need color help with exterior paint on 1902 Victorian with bad siding
We have a 1902 victorian in a small town in Iowa. Unfortunately,...
Jennifer Weinman
Sponsored Products
Noble Crown Bath Towel
$59.50 | FRONTGATE
Cameo Three-Light Chrome Pendant with White Fabric Shades
$418.00 | Bellacor
Modern Plastic E27 Pendant Lighting Purple
$7.95 | ParrotUncle
Paula Deen River House 9 Piece Rectangular Dining Table Set with Host Chairs - R
Minuteman Watch - Two Hand Black - Squarestreet
$195.00 | HORNE
Feiss Prairie House 21" High Outdoor Post Mount Light
Lamps Plus
Bed Side Lamps: The Emperor 37 In. Table Lamp 1296
Home Depot
Ravello Flatweave Runner 8x2.5
Design Within Reach
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™