Experts say there's no safe level of lead
by Paul F.P. Pogue
Two of Tamara Rubin's children suffered lead poisoning when a painter dry scraped and melted lead paint in her Portland, Ore., home in 2005. They still have aggressive tendencies and learning disabilities, Rubin says.
And her two other children weren't exposed to the renovation but still tested positive for some lead in their blood — from lead dust at school and the neighborhood around them, according to Rubin. "People still aren't even aware that lead poisoning is a problem," she says.
Experts say there's no safe level of lead. The CDC set the blood lead level of concern for children at 10 micrograms per deciliter, but also states that adverse effects exist at all levels.
Veteran lead researcher Dr. Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., says studies show evidence of lower IQ and increased risk of ADHD even at very low lead levels.
Lanphear thinks the new EPA renovation rule is a good first step, but is concerned the lack of clearance testing provides the illusion of safety.
"In some, perhaps many cases, there will be children poisoned in homes where the renovation followed the rule," Lanphear says. He recommends homeowners take the initiative and insist that contractors clean their work area until it can pass a clearance test with levels much less than EPA's minimum standard.
Rubin says one contractor she hired a few years after her children were poisoned told her they couldn't guarantee a $14,000 window-replacement job would be done completely lead-safe. So she carried out the safety procedures herself, including tarping the work space and disposing of the waste.
Clearance testing afterward showed no lead present. "It would have only cost a few hundred dollars to do what I did for them," she says.