PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An alert for anyone who owns a house built before 1978: if you’re planning to paint, renovate or strip any wood within it, you first need to get it tested for lead.

More than 40 million houses in the United States have lead paint. And it’s really important if you have small children to be very careful when you’re remodeling because you do not want to end up with lead paint poisoning.

Especially for children younger than 6-years-old, ingesting lead paint chips or breathing in lead dust can lead to lifelong learning disabilities, nervous system problems or even brain damage. Just a little dust can do a lot of damage.

“If you took this much lead dust and you spread it over a 1,500-square-foot home, that house would be contaminated,” said Greg Sauer, a lead-certified program instructor.

In order to remove it, find a contractor who is certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in safe lead practices and ask specific questions on the removal process.

“A good contractor will list all of the things that they do because they’re proud of the fact that it’s part of their business,” Sauer said.

Angie’s List has been working with the EPA educating consumers on the dangers of lead paint and the proper procedures for dealing with it, and they have seen lots of progress from contractors. But there are still painters that aren’t following the proper procedures, so it’s important consumers educate themselves and are in the driver’s seat.

Sauer says it’s imperative your painter or remodeler uses plastic drop cloths, not canvas, and a HEPA vacuum for clean-up. And while the paint may be the main culprit, it’s not the only one.

“We think of lead-based paint as the colors on the walls, but that’s not true,” Sauer said. “It’s also in the lacquers, the varnishes, the shellacs, the floor coverings. Those all have lead in them as well.”

Thanks to the EPA’s “Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule” of 2010, it’s illegal for any contractor to disturb lead paint without first acquiring lead-safe certification. You can find a national list of certified contractors on the EPA’s website.

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