Swabs not reliable for detecting lead dust in homes

The quick, inexpensive test kits used by homeowners nationwide to detect lead-laced dust are prone to high error rates, according to a University of Rochester study.

Researchers found that 64 percent of the locations that LeadCheck Swabs indicated were safe, actually had hazardous concentrations of lead in dust, according to federal standards. Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D., an expert on lead poisoning at the University of Rochester Medical Center and first author of the study, warns that people should be aware of the tool's lack of sensitivity and how it might impact the health of children.

"We're very interested in promoting low-cost ways to detect lead at the low levels we now know to be dangerous to children. That's why it was important to evaluate the test," Korfmacher said. "Our concern is that parents or property owners might use these tests and be falsely assured."

Childhood lead poisoning is irreversible. It results from ingesting lead-based paint, lead dust, or contaminated soil.

Some county health departments across the nation use LeadCheck Swabs as an educational tool, recommending the kits to mothers bringing home infants from the hospital. The swabs are sold at many retailers; they cost about $1.30 each when purchased in bulk. They are popular among community groups, landlords and other consumers seeking an inexpensive way to get precise results.

In Rochester, N.Y., several community groups wanted to begin using the tests but agreed to wait until Korfmacher's evaluation was complete. The research was conducted as part of a community "Get The Lead Out" (GLO) project, a collaborative effort between the University and several community groups to prevent lead poisoning. The GLO project is one example of the University's long history in developing innovative approaches to public health problems.

Korfmacher and co-author Sherry Dixon, Ph.D., of the National Center for Healthy Housing in Columbia, Md.,

Contact: Leslie Orr
University of Rochester Medical Center

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