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We got the results of our lead test from last Friday. Check out the complete report (PDF) for all the gory details, but I am going to try to summarize them in plain English.

They didn’t find any lead hazards inside the house, but they did find some on the perimeter, in two spots.

1) The threshold of our front door. I kind of suspected there might be lead paint dust there. Back when ACORN did lead abatement on our house, they forgot the strip of paint right inside our doorframe. It’s only about 2 1/2″ wide. That pain is presumably flaking and getting dust on the threshold. Unfortunately the threshold is an area which Xy has not routinely included when she mops the house. (Rest assured I mopped it yesterday.) As I mentioned, they didn’t find hazardous levels inside the house itself, but we only had them check a few places. In retrospect I wish we’d done a couple more swabs upstairs. Lead dust could be tracked in from the threshold into the house.

2) The soil in our backyard. I don’t think ACORN ever tested this. We always suspected this soil might be contaminated, which is why we don’t grow any vegetables there — ornamental plants only. Note that we don’t have an actual yard, just a concrete slab. All the soil is in containers, large raised beds that were there before we bought the house and spent time under water in the flood of ’05. Persephone doesn’t play in the containers, of course. However, some of the containers are rather porous, and dirt gets out from them onto the slab. How much? The sample from our slab indicates an amount that is above HUD standards for outdoors — but below HUD standards for indoors.

3) That’s plenty to chew on, but here’s a little more. I ordered some LeadCheck Swabs, a do-it-yourself method. I’ve heard these can give false negatives, so I take them with a grain of salt. I checked a few items around the house. I checked the paint around the door, which I know to be lead-based, and sure enough, it gave a positive result. I had heard bathtubs can be a source of lead contamination, especially old clawfoot tubs such as the one we have (and love) so I decided to give it the test. The swab seemed to come away negative — but when I came back a half an hour later I noticed the area I’d rubbed was pink and red. (That means lead.) Yikes!

Pink & Red

So… what to do? Dr. Rodgers tells me there’s no “magic bullet” in a house with lead paint. All you can do is clean up what you find and recheck the blood. If the blood lead level doesn’t go down, then you keep looking.

According to HUD priorities you have to attack peeling lead paint, lead on doors and windows (which make dust through friction), lead dust on floors and window sills and lead soil.

So I am devising a plan of attack.

First the easy stuff: Until further notice: No more playing out back, and no more baths in the tub. We may ultimately decide these are not big risks after all, but for now we won’t take chances.

Next the mundane stuff: We are increasing the frequency of mopping. We are washing hands more often. We are trying to remember to take our shoes off when we enter the house, but this is tough because we have — no kidding — six doors to get in and out of the house. Mainly we use only two, but my shoes always seem to be by the other door.

Then there’s the more difficult task of actually doing something to mitigate the hazards. Do I tackle the paint around the door myself? Hire a pro? Or just clean the bejeezus out of the threshold? A little more research is required.

As for our raised beds, we could perhaps seal them tighter. I have some ideas that involve a bit of brick-laying and concrete patching. I might try to organize a party for that some weekend coming up, see if I can get any friends to work for beer.

Of course, we are also thinking about selling the house, and not just because of the lead hazards. That’s complicated. Further ruminations forthcoming.

And finally: I am taking the girl to another pediatrician at the end of this week for a second opinion — another capillary (pinprick) screening. I decided to pursue this after Kent shared a link indicating the rate of false positives for such tests may be much higher than I expected. (Like, as high as 73%.) Wouldn’t it be nice if this all turned out to be a big mistake? Now that we have confirmed lead hazards around our home, that seems a bit much to hope for. Still, in a couple weeks we will have another number to ponder.

Published inEcologyFamilyOur House


  1. Lee Lee

    I’ll be thinking about you and your family, B. Whatever you do, I know it will be the best decision that can be made.

  2. Buy more shoes!

    At least you are making progress on the lead issue.
    Moving is always an option but moving is such a pain.
    I am not a mason but I would be willing to help with the project if it would help keep the little on safe. I do not drink beer!

  3. E E

    Thinking about you all, and after seeing a gazillion photos of yours, seems like I’ve actually “caught up” with ya.

    Hard to imagine containing the contamination, and now I am considering a test for Isa. She gets blood drawn everyweek!

  4. Have you and xy also been tested? Curious if your levels are also higher – maybe this would show if the problem is your house or the day care or elsewhere. Or does it not affect adults as much?

  5. amy amy

    Hi Bart! Thanks for publishing your accounts. I am dealing with similar issues with my family. I just wanted to mention that another option is encapsulation which may work on your threshold and concrete. Basically varnish or paint the surfaces to keep the lead from travelling (after cleaning thoroughly).

    Keep the faith. Isn’t parenthood fun?

  6. Anne Anne

    You might want to consider having the bathtub re-enameled. I have an old tub that I didn’t want to replace, but which was beat up and flaking–similar health concerns. I had it re-enameled for not much money, so it is now sealed.

    I also had myself (and all the pets) checked for lead poisoning after I sanded and painted all the rooms in my old house. I had tested for lead paint beforehand and found it (unsurprisingly) all over the place. I had to deal with it in every room. It was a simple blood test and mine was covered by insurance as part of the annual physical, so it’s probably easy for you to do.

  7. Bart,
    First, you gotta do what you can to look out for your family. The lead in the soil may be from all the crap leftover in the waters of Katrina. I am sure you figured that out already. She’s gotta wear shoes outside, and have minimal contact with the dirt. After that, take care of what’s inside the house. I think you are smart to get another test done, but if that turns up positive, then you have to really think hard about staying in the house or remediating it so that it is safe.

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