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Lead is an extremely toxic metal that can cause a wide range of health issues in the young and old alike. Nonetheless, it is particularly lethal for children under six years of age. It's also hazardous for pregnant mothers who can pass lead on to their babies, possibly causing premature birth, low birth weight, mental development issues and nerve damage. It can be accidently ingested by a child, inhaled in dust or even absorbed through the skin. Once in the bloodstream it gets distributed throughout the body in the same way healthy minerals like iron and calcium are, often damaging red blood cells' ability to carry oxygen to the body's organs.

A component found in interior and exterior paint manufactured before 1978, lead-based paint can be found in businesses, houses and apartments around the city. While it essentially lies dormant as long as the paint is in good shape, problems often will arise when the paint starts to crack and flake off, or when home renovations are done.

It would be a wise course of action for families with new children or grandchildren to have their homes tested. There are two approaches that can be used to determine whether there is a danger.

Hire a professional. The EPA recommends using a certified lead inspector or a certified lead risk assessor. They will look at all the paint on the property inside and out, taking samples and testing them using a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer or sending samples off to a lab accredited by the EPA's National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program.

Do it yourself. There are kits out there that can determine the presence of lead in paint. This is done by putting paint chips in a chemical mix, which will change color if the paint contains lead. Residents can also collect their own paint samples and send them off to labs for a more thorough analysis.

What to do if lead paint is found?

In most cases there is no need to immediately panic although precautions should be exercised. Notify the owner if the occupant is not the owner of the property. Clean up any loose paint chips on the floor and generally keep the space as clean as possible using soap and water - be particularly careful with windowsills, countertops and other flat surfaces that collect dust. If the lead paint is outside, do not let children play in the area where lead was found and remove shoes when coming inside. Painting over lead paint with regular paint is a short-term fix.

If one is to permanently neutralize all lead paint in the home, they should hire a certified lead abatement contractor. The contractor will either use special materials that cover the lead paint or remove the paint. Certified lead professionals trained and accredited through the EPA will contain the toxic materials rather than spreading them around as they work. Go to the EPA's web site for more comprehensive information or to locate a contractor,

New York State's lead paint regulations are quite detailed about obligations for business owners that serve children as well as landlords renting to others. If there is evidence that landlords or businesses are not following the letter of the law or are otherwise violating the rights of their customers, an attorney experienced in matters of lead poisoning can be a tremendous asset when seeking damages for injury, illness or the costs of protecting loved ones against lead.

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