Lead poisoning occurs from even minute quantities of dust that we can't see. Lead builds up in our bodies which causes health problems. In April 2010, the EPA put into place strict new rules for all residential (YOUR home) renovation, repair and painting projects. The rules apply to all homes built before 1978, plus apartment buildings and facilities with daycare centers.
When Does Lead Poisoning Occur?
The RRP (renovation, repair and paint) rules focus on lead poisoning that can occur when lead paint sold prior to 1978, is disturbed. Note the use of the word sold, as you probably want to test paint applied for several years after 1978, because it could have been purchased before the ban on lead paint went into effect.
Why? Because lead if swallowed, absorbed through the skin or breathed in can poison people, and young children are especially vulnerable.
- Lead can damage child's nervous system causing developmental and behavioral problems.
- In adults, lead causes health problems and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
Avoiding Lead Paint Problems
Any contractor that disturbs surfaces with lead paint (includes carpenters, electricians, plumbers, window installers, painters), property manager and others who perform renovations, repair and painting work in residential houses, apartments and child-occupied facilities built before 1978, are required to get certified. Certification is a 2-step process:
- Individuals are required to attend an 8 hour class. I took my class at the Institute for Environmental Education (www.ieetrains.com) in Wilmington, MA.
- Companies must also apply for lead certification by the EPA, and then follow the processes defined to avoid lead poisoning which is a risk to employees and occupants of the home being renovated.
There is now a Lead Hotline offered by the National Lead Information Center (NLIC). They provide information on lead hazards and their prevention, to the general public and professionals. You can contact them by phone, 1(800) 424-LEAD (5323) or submit questions online at the EPA-NLIC website. Want to read more about lead safety? Download this brochure from the EPA, Lead Safe Guide to Renovating Right.
Home Owner Precautions to Avoid Lead Poisoning
Effective April ’10, these are the processes that all contractors must follow for your home projects. All window replacements require the process be used and there are no exceptions when the area is greater than 6 sq ft indoors or 20 sq ft outdoors.
- Your contractor must give you an EPA lead pamphlet so you understand exactly what the risks are.
- Information signs must be posted near the work site. Only workers following procedures can enter the work area.
- Companies must be certified, and renovators trained. A trained employee must monitor the work site at the beginning of the job to insure plastic sheeting and other protection is properly setup, and at the end of the job to insure cleanup procedures are followed.
- Lead safe work practicesinclude the following:
- Inside your home, plastic must protect all surfaces in the work area. Plastic barriers must also be built to prevent dust and debris from leaving the work area.
- Outside your home, the work area must be prepared to minimize dust being left behind. The ground and plants should be covered with heavy plastic sheeting extending out from the building at least 10 feet.
- Workers must wear protective clothing including safety goggles/glasses and disposable protective clothing from a painter’s hat to overalls, shoe covers and rubber gloves.This is meant to protect workers on the job, and from tracking lead dust to other locations, i.e. their homes.
- When using power tools (must have HEPA exhaust control), there are guidelines that must be followed. Open-flame burning must keep heat below 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Thorough clean up and verification testing must be done to minimize exposure to lead based paint hazard.
When Don’t You Need to Follow Lead Safety Rules
There are several ways to circumvent these rules, although they’re not recommended. You might save a little money but the negative health effects aren't worth the risk when lead paint is present in your home.
- Homes built after 1978 are not subject to these rules.
- Anyone who has completed their lead certification training can perform lead tests on site (rules vary by state). Testing can be done by a certified lead-based paint inspector or risk assessor to determine if lead is present. The testing involves a surface-by-surface investigation to collect paint chips for laboratory analysis.
- Minor repair and maintenance activities that are less than 6 square feet per interior room, or 20 square feet outdoors may be exempt from these work site requirements. Window replacement and demolition are never exempt.
- Anyone who performs this work for pay is subject to the rules, i.e. property managers, real estate professionals and even cleaning crews. When the owner does the work, the EPA encourages you to follow the lead safe work practices to protect yourself, your family and the value of your home on resale.