Repainting Lead-Based Paint

scraping peeling paint off a wall

In April 2011 the EPA will finally put its long standing rules about lead paint abatement into effect. Back in 1991 new rules were established for dealing with renovations on homes built before 1978. These rules were intended to stop lead poisoning in children due to disturbing painted surfaces containing lead-based paint from such activities as scraping and sanding for repainting as well as remodeling and demo work that involves disturbing lead coated surfaces and releasing lead dust into the air.

What the Rules State

Anyone being paid to do renovations or painting, such as a home improvement contractor, is required to be trained and certified in methods of containing and cleaning up the lead dust involved in their activities.

No demo may be done that would spread debris such as breaking wall materials, etc. with a hammer, instead these surfaces must be gently broken apart in other ways. All power tools that cut, sand or grind must be hooked up to a vacuum system with a HEPA filter and heat guns may not exceed 700 degrees Fahrenheit to keep lead dust and fumes out of the air.

In addition to using approved methods for containing any lead that may be released during renovation and painting, a contractor is also required to test the site after work is completed to insure no lead residue remains on surfaces such as windowsills, countertops and floors. And a record of the job must be kept by contractors for 3 years to prove all work was done in accordance with EPA approved methods.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are a few exceptions to these stringent requirements, for instance small jobs involving no more than six square feet in interiors and 20 square feet on exterior surfaces are exempt. Also housing for the elderly and disabled is exempt if no child under 6 years old is in residence or will be in residence there. Dwellings with no bedrooms such as an efficiency apartment are also exempt.

The DIY Loophole

If you are doing painting and renovations yourself, on your own property, you are not bound by these new rules. This doesn't mean you should just disregard the possibility of lead dust being created by the work you are doing. If you have children, especially children under 6 years old, you should be very careful they are not exposed to lead. Because a child's brain is still developing, lead is much more hazardous to them than to adults. Pregnant women should also avoid any lead in their environment for the same reasons.

The EPA has published a pamphlet to help when considering renovations at this link. Use this link to find a certified contractor to do the work for you. Below is a reprint of the EPA publication "Keep it Clean: An Insider's Guide to Lead-Safe Painting and Home Improvement".

Consumer paint has not contained lead in decades, however anyone working in an older home or building (built before 1978) may encounter old, lead-based paint. While lead-based paint does not present a hazard when intact (i.e. not chipping, peeling, chalking or otherwise disturbed), if you are contemplating a typical renovation or remodeling project know that it can disturb the painted surface and create lead dust. Special attention should be given when you prepare any old painted surface for repainting. Never use open burning methods, if you scrape, sand or remove old paint by any means you may release lead dust or debris. Lead is toxic and exposure to lead can cause serious illness, such as brain damage, especially in children. Pregnant women should also avoid exposure.

The National Paint and Coating Association (NPCA) is providing the following information on (old) lead-based paint hazards and safeguards to use when undertaking renovation, remodeling or repainting projects.

In the Beginning

If you're like most homeowners, you've probably thought about doing a painting project or some other type of home improvement. It can create a better living space, give you a sense of satisfaction and increased the value of your home. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, there are safety issues to consider before starting the job.

Removing paint that contains lead is the most hazardous part of a painting or home improvement project. Lead paint was used in homes built before 1978 and extensively in homes built before 1960. It was usually applied to windows, doors, stairs, railings, columns, porches, siding and trim. Since these are the places that often need work, many home improvement projects disturb old layers of lead paint and create lead paint dust, chips or fumes. If lead is inhaled or ingested, it may cause lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can result in serious harm to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Lead is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.

The Fuss About Dust

Choose work methods that create the least amount of dust.

  1. Hand sand wetted surfaces
  2. Use chemical strippers (but not those containing methylene chloride)
  3. Use heat guns (but not those that operate above 700° F)
  4. Consider buying or renting a HEPA vacuum which can be safely used where there is leaded dust.

Play it Safe

Always follow these safety guidelines as you work

  1. Keep children and pregnant women out of the work area.
  2. Work on one room at a time.
  3. Remove as much furniture as you can from the room.
  4. Cover remaining furniture with 6 mil plastic securely taped in place.
  5. Close off the work area by taping 6 mil plastic over all doors, windows, the floor, ground and other exposed surfaces.
  6. Turn off forced-air heating and air conditioning systems and cover vents with 6 mil plastic securely taped in place.
  7. Allow only workers in the area until the job is complete. Be careful not to track dust out of the work area.
  8. Don't eat, drink or smoke while in the work area.
  9. Use a plant mister to wet the work surface before hand scraping and sanding. Mist drop cloths/plastic sheets before rolling up. Misting will suppress dust.
  10. If others do the work, ensure they follow these work practices to protect your family's health and safety.

The Right Stuff

Using the proper equipment will help you complete your job safely.

  1. Protective clothing (such as safety glasses, disposable gloves, hats, shoe covers and protective clothes)
  2. 6 mil plastic drop cloths
  3. Duct tape
  4. Mops and buckets (two)
  5. All purpose cleaner or cleaner made just for lead clean-up
  6. Spray bottles/plant misters
  7. Disposable rags or paper towels
  8. Heavy duty plastic bags
  9. HEPA vacuum

Leave the Scene Clean

Always clean up carefully at the end of each workday.

  1. Change work clothes and shoes before leaving the work site.
  2. Wash hands and face immediately after leaving work area.
  3. Shower and wash hair as soon as possible after work/cleanup is completed
  4. Wash work clothes separately

At Final Clean-Up

  1. Place all dust and chips in double garbage bags.
  2. Carefully roll or fold 6 mil plastic drop cloths inward (keeping the dust from flying around) and discard in double garbage bags.
  3. Use two buckets for cleaning, one with detergent and one with clean rinse water.
  4. Wash floors, walls, etc. with an all-purpose cleaner and disposable or paper towels then rinse well. Change rinse water often.
  5. Dispose of towels in plastic bags.
  6. Never burn leaded debris.

Take it Off, Slowly

Never use these dangerous paint-removal methods.

  1. Don't dry scrape
  2. Don't sandblast
  3. Don't use an open flame or torch to burn paint.
  4. Don't power sand
  5. Don't use methylene chloride
  6. Don't use heat guns which operate over 700°F

Get the Lead Out

Make sure to test for lead dust when your job is finished.

  1. Take dust samples to determine whether the final clean-up has been thorough.
  2. Lead dust test kits are available in many hardware stores.

Dust Sampling

It is recommended that three samples (the floor, a window sill and a window well) be taken in each room where work has been done.

For the Floor:

  1. Measure a 12 inch by 12 inch square (you may want to outline it with masking tape.)
  2. Place un-powdered disposable gloves on hands.
  3. Take a moist baby wipe or towelette and wipe the area in an "S" pattern from top to bottom. (Avoid wipes that contain aloe or that are scented.)
  4. Fold wipe with dirty side in.
  5. Using the clean side, wipe the area in the same "S" pattern from side to side.
  6. Place wipe in appropriate labeled container.(Contact a lead testing laboratory for specific containers.)

For Window Wells and Window Sills:

  1. Follow the same process as above but the area does not have to be 12 by 12 inches.
  2. Measure the length and width of the wiped area and record on the sampling form.

Be sure to properly label the sample containers, complete the laboratory form. Remember to change gloves between samples. Lead dust on gloves can contaminate samples. For additional guidance or to get the name of an accredited laboratory to analyze paint or dust samples, contact the EPA's National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).