How to avoid deadly lead paint
Angie’s List interviewed 200 contractors who regularly disturb lead paint during the course of their work. One-third of the respondents, even when prompted with specific questions about lead-based paint, gave advice that could put individuals, especially young children, in danger.
Things to know about lead:
- When was your home built? If your house was built before 1978, it may have lead-based paint; if it was built before 1960, it almost certainly does.
- Children are at risk: If your home does have lead in it, your child and other children who visit your home are at risk for lead poisoning. Children most at risk are those younger than age 7.
- Effects of lead: Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and an increase in violent tendencies. The damage caused by lead poisoning is permanent.
- What are the symptoms? The symptoms of lead poisoning are subtle. The only way to tell if your child has lead poisoning is to have a blood test. Check with your local health department or your child’s physician to get your child tested.
- How does one get lead poisoning? Lead dust in your home and lead in bare soil are the most common ways kids get lead poisoning. Children playing on the floor get lead dust or contaminated soil on their toys, blankets, clothes and on their hands, which then gets into their mouths. The lead dust may be invisible. The amount of dust the EPA considers unsafe for kids is equal to a small packet of sweetener sprinkled over an area one third the size of a football field.
- What are the sources of dust? The main sources of dust are deteriorated paint, paint in high friction areas (such as windows and doors), and lead-contaminated soil tracked in from outdoors. Remodeling activities that disturb paint will create dust that will create a hazard for young children.
- Does my home have lead? The only way to know for sure if your house has lead hazards is to have a lead risk assessment performed by a trained and licensed professional, or a clearance examination after work has been done on your home. Otherwise, assume old paint contains lead and take precautions accordingly.
- Be upfront about lead: If you are selling or renting your home, you must give information on what you have done about lead in the home to potential buyers or tenants.
5 Questions you should ask your contractor:
- Does my home have lead-based paint? Although they can’t answer this question legally unless they are a licensed lead inspector or risk assessor, they should know that if the house is older than 1978, it very likely does have lead-based paint. In fact, contractors working in pre-1978 homes are required by law to provide you with EPA’s informational pamphlet “How to Protect Your Family from Lead-based Paint” – even before you ask.
- How will you protect my family from lead dust? Be weary of any contractor who says it won’t be a problem. The Contractor should tell you that he will use “lead-safe work practices,” including isolating the area where lead paint will be disturbed with plastic sheeting, posting warning signs, cleaning up thoroughly every day, and avoiding certain paint removal techniques that will create a lot of dust or vapors (dry sanding or scraping, open flame burning or torching, high temperature heat guns, abrasive blasting or sandblasting without high efficiency particulate exhaust control).
- Are your employees trained to know how to work with lead-based paint safely? Currently, training is only required for lead paint “abatement” projects – projects whose main purpose is to permanently remove lead-based paint and certain HUD funded projects. Remodelers and renovators working on non-federal jobs are not required to be trained. However, HUD and EPA-approved training in lead-safe work practices is available for contractors. A contractor whose employees have been trained in these practices, who supervises his workers to make sure that they follow those practices, and has a clearance examination by an independent inspector will do a better job of protecting your family from exposure to lead.
- What will you do to make sure my house is free of lead dust after the job is done? Lead dust can be invisible and it doesn’t take much to make your child sick. The only way to be sure that the house is safe, even after thorough cleaning, is to have a “clearance exam.” That’s when a trained professional who doesn’t work for the contractor actually takes dust wipe samples from floors and window sills to see how much lead dust remains. If the contractor says he will have a clearance exam done, check to make sure he will use a person with the proper licensing and training.
- What laws or regulations apply to the work you will do in my home and how will you comply with them? Contractors are required by state and federal law to notify owners and tenants that they may be disturbing lead-based paint if the home is 1978 or older and must provide the EPA pamphlet “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.” (Check to see if your state requires steps beyond this current federal requirement.) For more information about lead paint go to http://www.epa.gov/lead/.