On the morning of my son's 1st birthday, a huge crowd was coming over to our new house to celebrate. It was a gorgeous Saturday, I was still unpacking, painting and building a kitchen island from pieces I found at Builders Resource.
Checking the answering machine before the crowd arrived, I listened to a message from the SF Health Department telling me my son had tested with elevated levels of lead in his blood and that they needed to come out to our house to investigate the source of lead. I nearly fainted and fell to my knees. They didn't tell me the how high his levels were and, of course, the office was closed for the weekend. I did get a hold of our pediatrician and she talked me down off the ledge as best she could.
Our pediatrician does a routine blood test for lead 12 months and she recommends this for all kids in the San Francisco because there are so many old houses covered in lead paint. She also told me that the government had recently lowered the threshold for a "positive" result and to keep in mind that my son was not showing any signs of developmental delay. Two days later I learned that he had the lowest possible positive reading. Still not good news but better than what I had been imagining.
Joe Walseth from the SF Health Department came out to inspect our house. It is a routine follow up, anytime a child has elevated levels, the lab sends the results to the health department. (But some how our pediatrician was not notified.)
Joe as very clear, very calm and very helpful. He collected samples from every room in our house. (very CSI with plastic gloves and vials...) He focused on friction areas like doors and windows, as well as our back stairs and the soil in the yard.
Our house is from the 1890's, paint from the Edwardian and Victorian era can have paint with up to 40% lead content. Joe explained that this was the paint to be most concerned about. Keep in mind any paint before 1978 should be treated as lead paint.
After the test came back, Joe was pretty certain our son was exposed to lead from the soil in the backyard. The soil results came back sky high. There were a few places in the house we need to deal with, but really the issue was the soil and the back stairs. Theo had only played in the backyard 2 or 3 times! I could see a few paint chips on the ground but I thought kids needed to EAT a paint chip to get exposed. I didn't know that just being in the dust/dirt is actually what poisons kids most often.
A friendly neighbor told us the back story. The previous owners had neglected the paint on the back of the house for years and when it came time to sell, they hired careless painters who powerwashed a million lead paint chips onto the garden.
Even though we were pretty sure Theo was exposed from the yard, Joe made some recommendations for around the house.
1 Touch up damaged paint, especially where there is friction, ie windows and doors. (do not use sandpaper)
2 Bathe Theo in a plastic storage tub because the enamel on our tube has worn through.
3 same with kitchen sink - we wash dishes in a plastic sink tub.
4 we replaced all our old door hinges as they were crusted with lead paint.
5 we bought a HEPA vac
6 I wash things more than I did and I don't feed Theo food that has fallen on the floor (those scraps are for me)
7 wash hand before eating, and shoes off at the front door.
Joe's recommendations for the yard:
Encapsulate the soil. Cover with weed guard fabric and then fresh soil.
Joe's recommendations on how to cleanup lead dust inside your home.
1Vacume with HEPA filter
2 wash with soap and water
3 repeat vacuum and wash again.
Raised a feral hippy child in New Mexico, this dumpster diving compost lover wants to help green your home.