If you live in an older home, there is a decent chance that you have lead-based paint – especially in that first paint job.

Because of health and safety concerns the federal government banned consumer use of lead-based paint in 1978. Depending on what state you live in, its use may have actually been banned earlier.  Florida was not one of those states, so the 1978 prohibition applies here.

If your home was built prior to 1978, you may have lead-based paint under layers of newer paint, as is the case with millions of homes in the United States.

Statistics provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate that in homes built between 1960 and 1977, there is a 24 percent chance of lead-based paint. Homes built between 1940 and 1959 have a 69 percent possibility. And in those built prior to 1940, there is an 87 percent likelihood of lead-based paint.

So, what does all that mean for you – the homeowner or renter?

Lead-based paint can be a health hazard to you and your family.

Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk from lead-based paint. Health issues for them could include brain damage, kidney damage, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, learning difficulties, slow growth, nerve damage, hearing impairment, headaches or bone-marrow disease.

For older children and adults, the health issues may include hearing loss, vision problems, high blood pressure, kidney damage, nerve damage, memory problems and muscle and joint pain.

Additionally, a pregnant woman can pass lead in her system to her unborn child.

Elena Mendenhall is the director of property management for RE/MAX Professionals. When dealing with older properties they manage, RE/MAX provides a disclosure form as well as an EPA brochure to explain the dangers and safety precautions when it comes to lead-based paint.

“You don’t know for sure without testing but we assume that if the home was built before 1978, it’s likely there is lead-based paint,” she said.

There are risks about not knowing for sure.

“Scraping down the walls to remove all the paint can be dangerous – especially with children or pets,” said Mendenhall. “Exposure can come from ingestion. If you have chipping paint, don’t peel it. You can let it be and paint over it. There are certain kinds of paint that can be used to paint over lead-based paints.”

The big issue is that it is not so simple to know whether you have lead-based paint in your home. While it may be logical to assume that if your home was built prior to 1978 – and was never renovated – there is lead-based paint, you don’t know for certain without testing.

If you are concerned about the health of your family, if you have any renovation plans or if you are planning to sell, you should contact a qualified, professional painter who is a certified lead inspector for testing. A certified inspector can use one of three methods to determine the issue – a paint inspection, risk assessment or a hazard screen. Each method includes collecting and testing of paint and dust samples.

Once you have results, you have some options.

The first is to leave it but be very vigilant about cleaning up paint chips, wash hands often, remove dust, paint over damaged surfaces and clean air ducts often.

The alternative is to remove the lead paint. For this you need a certified lead-abatement contractor. The cost could range from $10,000 to $30,000.

“The best thing to do is look at your home and your family and make the best safety and health decision you can,” said Mendenhall.