Dianne Van Rossum put the hand-held, box-like X-ray device against the dingy, brown hallway wall. The gamma rays penetrated into the paint, found lead and bounced back to the X-RF lead paint analyzer.
The machine read: .8 milligrams per square centimeter. Ms. Van Rossum took two more readings. She pushed down on the handle of the box and waited for the beep. "One point zero," she said aloud.
The paint in this house will probably have to be removed, or covered, before anyone can move in.
Ms. Van Rossum is a health inspector with the Baltimore County Bureau of Regional Community Services. Yesterday, she and two other county inspectors were learning to use the X-RF lead paint analyzer in a vacant house in Charles Village in the city.
The training session was just one of a number of activities sponsored by the Maryland Department of the Environment during Lead Poisoning Week as proclaimed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Until now, Baltimore County health inspectors investigating a lead poisoning case had to use both a machine and a certified operator from the state environmental department. But Maryland recently purchased five X-RF analyzers from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. And in three weeks, the county will receive its first lead paint detecting device, like the one Ms. Van Rossum used yesterday.
The state is keeping one of the new machines; the others will be distributed around Maryland.
Last year, the county investigated approximately 45 lead paint cases, said Ian J. Forrest, chief of the Bureau of Regional Community Services, which handles the county's lead paint program.
Mr. Forrest said the X-RF device, no bigger than a clothes iron, will allow the county to do more and quicker lead paint detection. That's important, he said, because last October, the CDC issued new standards that reduce the level of lead that constitutes poisoning from 25 micrograms per deciliter to 18 micrograms.
Lowering the standards will result in more lead paint cases, as more children are officially diagnosed as having been poisoned, Mr. Forrest said.
Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, mental retardation in children and, if the lead level is high enough, death. Even low-level exposure has been linked with lower IQs, developmental disabilities and other problems in toddlers and young children, the CDC reported.
Lead is found practically everywhere -- in air, soil and water -- but the main source of exposure is deteriorating lead paint and lead dust, primarily in older homes.
Though lead-based house paint was banned in 1978, it remains in 57 million homes nationwide, including the homes of nearly 4 million toddlers and young children who are most at risk from ingesting the metal-laden paint.
In Maryland, 500,000 houses built before 1950 are believed to contain lead paint; at least half are in Baltimore and Baltimore County.
Most of the reported cases of lead poisoning in the county have been in the older, southwest and southeast areas, close to the city line, Mr. Forrest said.
Where to call in Baltimore County: Officials say there is no way people can determine, on their own, whether lead paint is present in their homes or apartments. However, Baltimore Countians can get a list of private laboratories that will test paint samples for lead by calling the county's western office of the Bureau of Regional Community Services, (410) 887-1161, or the eastern office, (410) 887-7136.
Elsewhere in state: Residents elsewhere in the state can call (410) 631-3859 for information.
Free screening: As part of Lead Poisoning Week, the Baltimore County Health Department is offering free blood screening for infants and children tomorrow from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Woodlawn Health Center, 1811 Woodlawn Drive, and the Essex Health Center, 1538 Country Ridge Lane.