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Lead-based paint inside older homes puts children under six at risk

Lead-based paint is an invisible poison that many older homes in East Tennessee have. Experts share how to recognize the signs of possible exposure.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Many older homes in East Tennessee may have lead-based paint and carry the risk of poisoning, according to the Tennessee State Department of Health.

 About one in every 11 kids is at risk of serious health problems, like nerve or brain damage, decreased growth and impaired hearing.

Todd Kennedy is the manager of the Knoxville Lead-Safe and Healthy Homes program. He said lead poisoning often happens going about your typical day.

“There is a misconception about how children get lead poisoned. It's not necessarily typically from eating paint chips like people think," Kennedy said. "It's more from doors and windows, what we call friction and impact surfaces.”

When doors or windows coated with lead paint open, dust spreads. 

“So, children ingest lead dust. That's typically how a child would become lead poisoned,” Kennedy said.

The symptoms of lead poisoning can be subtle and easy to misdiagnose.

Bonnie Hinds, a UT Extension health specialist and outreach and education coordinator for the Tennessee Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program, said that lead poisoning prevention is heavily focused on during this time of the year. 

Some signs to look for are tiredness, headache, poor appetite, stomach ache and cramps.

"Particularly in young children, those up to the age of six, it affects the developing brain, and can lower their potential IQ," Hinds said. "Because of the damage that occurs during those very sensitive years."

Barry Humphrey, an expert from Krug and Son's in making your home safer, said the process of removing lead is long. 

“We put up door barriers, tape plastic to the door barriers in the room that we're working on to close it off and isolate it, and then put plastic over all the material," Humphrey said.

After a cleanup—they test for lead again.

“We do that room by room. Clean this room. Move to the next. Block it off," Humphrey said. "So, no toxins get moved around.”

Experts say the best way to protect your family is to get lead testing done inside your home. While you’re waiting for a test, clean and mop often.

Lead poisoning can often happen in homes where families may not have the resources to fix the problem and the City of Knoxville currently has a grant program to help.

Both landlords and tenants can apply.

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