Could a house fire at an old home bring lead issues for neighboring houses?

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Old homes in central Indiana may be holding hidden dangers. A controlled burn exercise by the Bloomington Fire Department unknowingly spread lead paint debris across the city. Now IUPUI researchers are testing samples of debris.

“Lead is very sticky in the soil, and it lingers. It’s conservative, and it lingers for we think hundreds of years,” details Leah Wood, one of the scientists testing the samples at IUPUI.

Construction companies stopped using lead paint on homes in 1978. The controlled burn training was approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, however, city officials say the approval documents do not refer to lead paint on the structure. The plume of smoke launched debris more than a mile. Early testing has shown that some of the debris samples have as high as 10% lead content.

Lead toxin dangers may be present when any old home catches fire. Wood suggests nearby homeowners take their shoes off when entering their house, and wash their pet’s feet, so they do not track lead dust or debris into their home. Lead exposure can be dangerous for children.

“I would suggest getting in contact with remediation company,” says Lawrence Deputy Fire Chief Jim Hardie, “As we go west to the boundaries of Indianapolis and Lawrence, we see the older 70’s and [older homes]. With older homes [we see] lead, asbestos, those types of things. It’s a crapshoot with those 50s, 60s, 70s homes. I’m sure it’s still there, we just don’t know which ones they are.”

Wood also suggests neighborhood residents get their soil tested for lead after the fire. The university will even test the samples for you.

IUPUI researchers will be handing out 500 test kits to Bloomington homeowners living in the impact zone from the burn. The kits include protective gloves and will allow residents to submit soil, worms, and debris for testing.

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