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Lead - Safe Remodeling

Lead paint flaking off window sill

Is your contractor following lead-safe practices?

Beginning April 22, 2010, the EPA required all contracting firms working in pre-1978 homes and child-occupied facilities to be Certified Renovators. Crew members must also be individually certified, or have received on-the-job training by a Certified Renovator. Certified Renovators have been through an EPA training course to learn how to contain the spread of lead dust and debris during repair and remodeling projects.

New Prairie crew have been trained in lead-safe work practices since 2001, nearly 10 years before it was required. Here’s why:

Lead has long been known as toxic to human beings. Once it enters the body, most of it is stored in the bones, where it hangs around for a long time — it can stay in the body for more than twenty years. While it’s there, it can wreck havoc with the development and function of every organ and system. At the extreme end, it can cause delirium and death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a quarter of a million American children under the age of five have at least low-level lead poisoning. Children’s developing brains and nervous systems are very sensitive to the effects of lead. Childhood activities such as crawling on the floor and “mouthing” things increases their exposure to lead dust and paint chips. The developing brain of a fetus is also extremely vulnerable to lead poisoning. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead risk premature birth, miscarriage, or children with birth defects and/or learning disabilities.

Diagnosis of lead exposure is based on the amount of lead in the blood, measured in micrograms per deciliter ((μg/dL). In 1960, the Center for Disease Control issued a guideline of 60 μg/dL as an acceptable blood lead level in children. As evidence piled up that lead is harmful even at very low levels, this number was gradually reduced. Currently it is at less than 10 µg/dL for children and 25 µg/dL for adults. Pressure is now mounting to reduce it to 2 µg/dL. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to let you know if your levels are too high.

Even at low exposures, lead poisoning can cause:

  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Headaches
  • Reading and learning disabilities
  • Behavioral problems
  • Lower IQ
  • Hearing loss

Long-term exposure can result in adults with respiratory and digestive problems, nerve and reproductive disorders, and memory loss.

However, even seemingly healthy people can have blood lead levels that are too high. In many cases, lead causes unseen injury to the body, so people don’t realize they’ve been poisoned. Sometimes general flu-like symptoms may be misdiagnosed. If you’ve been exposed to lead dust in your home or office, have a blood test to determine your lead level. Children should be tested annually; more, if their exposure is high.

In an effort to protect both their staff and their clients from lead hazards, New Prairie owners Julie Birdwell and Jill Mulder completed Lead Abatement Supervisor training in 2001. Many of their full-timers were also trained. Currently, all full-time staff members are Certified, and all part-timers have been trained under them. We will continue to practice lead-safe work habits, just as we have for the last nine years.


Where does the lead come from?

Sources of lead in our environment include drinking water (mostly from corroding materials in the distribution system); soil (from the now-banned leaded gasoline); some imported food cans, cosmetics, and candies; batteries; and some colors of ink, to name a few.

But by far the most common source of lead poisoning is lead dust created by deteriorating paint on the walls, toys, furniture, and floors of our homes.

Australian doctors first recognized the connection between leaded paint and childhood illness back in 1897, and European nations started banning it in 1909. Lead paint is still used in the U.S. for industrial purposes, but it was banned for residential use in 1978.

Around a quarter of American homes built between 1960 and 1978 contain lead-based paint. The older your home is, the greater your chances it contains lead. Interior and exterior paints, some old varnishes, and some toys (particularly those made outside the U.S.) can all contain lead, which deteriorates over time and becomes dust. Window wells and doors are often the areas with most deterioration, as the friction created by movement releases paint.

You can actively test for lead using an EPA-approved test kit, or you can choose to assume the lead is there and proceed with lead-safe work practices when repairing or remodeling. Keep in mind that if you know lead paint is present, you are legally bound to disclose that information if you sell or rent out the house.


Before your remodel begins…

You will receive a pamphlet entitled Renovate Right with more extensive information about the dangers of lead, and your rights and responsibilities as a homeowner.

Some things to think about as you prepare for your remodel:

  • Lead dust particles are very small and pass through most filters. Remodeling can create a lot of dust. Contractors need to identify hazardous dust, and contain and clean it safely.
  • While lead is being disturbed, the work area will be closed to you and your family, including your pets. If possible, separate pathways for the contractors to the outside should be arranged, and alternative bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen arrangements need to be made.
  • Furniture will need to be removed from the room, if possible. Any furniture not removed will be covered in heavy-duty plastic for the duration of the lead disruption.
  • Heating/cooling may need to be turned off during the time of lead disruption.

Some people prefer to move out of the house entirely during the remodeling project, but this is not normally necessary. While renovation tends to be dusty and noisy, New Prairie has always worked to be respectful of you and your space, minimizing the dust and disruption as much as possible.

Lead-safe work practices include:

  • Containing dust inside the work area with heavy-duty plastic
  • Sealing off doors and vents
  • Use of water misting to keep dust down when disturbing lead-based paint
  • Use of HEPA vacuum on sanding or planing tools when possible
  • Thorough final clean-up of site with a HEPA vacuum and wet mop

All certifications and “process checklists” will be on site with the job book, so you can see what’s been done at any time. At the end of the project, renovators are required to do a final wipe with disposable cleaning cloths and compare them to a cleaning verification card, which will also be on site. If you wish to go one step further and do an actual lead test, that can also be arranged.


Excluded from the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule are…

renovation activities where affected components do not contain lead-based paint, emergency renovations (only clean-up verification required), and minor repair and maintenance. Replacing windows, demolition, and certain other activities are NOT considered minor repair or maintenance.

Renovations performed by homeowners in their own homes are also excluded, although the EPA strongly advocates learning and using lead-safe practices to reduce the risk to yourself and your family.

For more information on protecting your family from lead poisoning, check online. Here are some helpful sources to start with:

Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Page

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Illinois Dept. of Public Health’s Environmental Health Page

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