This past weekend, I completed my EPA Renovator Certification training for lead safe work practices: eight hours of classroom followed by an exam. For those of you living in a home that was built before 1978 or for those of you who have pets or children, this post is for you.
Lead is toxic and there is no “minimum” or “safe” level if it is in your body. It takes a very small amount of lead to poison children, adults and pets. Although we’ve heard of lead paint on children’s toys and dinnerware with lead glazing, the majority of children who are poisoned each year are poisoned by lead dust in their very own home. Lead damages neural pathways that can lead to lowered IQ and memory and personality problems.
Your body can’t tell the difference between lead and calcium when it enters your body, so it is readily absorbed in organs, teeth, nails and bones. This is particularly problematic in both pregnant women and the elderly. In both cases their bodies remove calcium from bones (as well as any stored lead) and return it to the blood stream for use. In both it is like being freshly contaminated and in pregnant women, their unborn baby is affected. Children, particularly those who play on floors and in dirt where there is lead dust, can absorb 50% of the lead they ingest or breathe.
The major source of lead in a home, of course, is lead based paint. Paint that is chipping or flaking is easy for children and pets to ingest. However, when renovation or repair work is done on a house that has leaded paint, the resulting dust is the primary problem. It is extremely hard to remove by dusting, sweeping or using a conventional vacuum and it flows and settles beyond the work area. Outside the home there are sources of lead from nearby highways (leaded gas emissions from years ago) and building products that leach lead when water washes them off the house onto the ground. Children playing outside can easily be exposed to this. As well, outside dust can be tracked inside on shoes.
The Environmental Protection Agency, along with HUD and OSHA, regulate and enforce rules about testing and disturbing lead paint. They specify that “target housing,” i.e., houses built before 1978 except those which have been professionally tested to be “lead-based paint” free, and child occupied facilities built before 1978 should be regulated by the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP). In California where laws are more stringent the rule applies to ALL pre-1978 structures. RRP specifies that for the facilities mentioned above, lead safe work practices are required if 6 square feet or more per room or 20 square feet on the outside of a building are disturbed or when windows are replaced. The only exception is for emergency repair.
So if you or your landlord hires a contractor to do renovations or repairs in your home that is pre-1978, they have to follow very strict rules of preparation, lead safe practices while working and strict clean up procedures. If they don’t, they’re subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day. To become a Certified Renovator, your contractor must pass an 8 hour certification course which is good for 5 years. Their firm must also be certified. You, as the consumer, must also receive the EPA pamphlet “Renovate Right” if you are living in pre-1978 housing that hasn’t yet been tested to be free of lead.
If you decide to do the work yourself, be aware that if there is lead paint in your home, you could be exposing yourself and your family to potentially hazardous levels of lead dust. Having your home tested by a certified lead inspector will tell you if it is safe for you to perform your own work or if you’d be better having a trained professional perform the work. If you have any questions – email or comment below.