Paint companies began phasing out lead-based paint in 1951 and then banned it in 1978. Because it's no longer used, says Barbara Moore, manager of the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital Lead Clinic in Baltimore, Md., "most people think it's a thing of the past."
However, because there are so many older homes in the Washington area, "we still have a problem with lead poisoning," says Jerome A. Paulson, a physician who is director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
Specks of dust flaking from window sills and doors get on floors and toys. Young children ingest the lead particles when they put their hands in their mouths.
Owen Gray, a software engineer in Baltimore, and his wife were cautious about painted surfaces possibly containing lead in their 1890s rowhouse. But they were surprised when a stripped fireplace mantel tested positive for the toxic metal.
"It never occurred to us that would be a problem," says Gray, whose toddler is being treated for elevated levels of lead.
Lead exposure has been linked to loss of IQ, learning difficulties and developmental delays.
And while many homeowners are warned about lead paint when they buy a home (or rent one), they may not take the risk seriously if they don't have children at the time, Paulson says.
In addition to painted - and previously painted - surfaces, lead may also be found in some vinyl tiles, window blinds and plumbing fixtures, including chrome-plated brass faucets.
In houses built before 1978, get a lead test by certified inspector.
Contractors doing work that could disturb lead paint such as sanding or replacing windows should be certified by EPA-approved trainers.
Lead is among the issues that the workgroup continues to make a priority. But more than that, says Matthew Ammon, deputy director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office on Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, "What it represents is a change in mind-set, in how we think about housing."
The report doesn't propose regulations, but it calls for federal agencies - and there are more than nine involved - to work with each other and with local governments, nonprofit groups and communities, Ammon says.
"This coordinated strategy is a big first step," says Morley, adding that she believes regulations are necessary.
The reason that 90 percent of homes have smoke detectors is that they're required by local codes, she says. "If you rely solely on the voluntary action of property owners," says Morley, "the consequences are lost lives."
Cech is a freelance writer.