When people remodel their homes, repainting is usually one of the projects that top the list of to-dos. After all a brand new coat of paint is the easiest and quickest way to make over a room. But not all paint is created equal, and some types of paint can be harmful both to you and to the environment.
If you’ve ever felt dizzy while painting a room in your home, chances are that you were using a paint that contained either lead or volatile organic compounds (VOC).
What is even more alarming is that it isn’t just new paint that can be harmful. Surfaces that were painted with old lead-based paint, that has begun to chip or deteriorate, can also make you sick.
Even though lead-based paint was banned from use in American homes by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1978, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some 38-million homes in the US still contain some lead-based paint surfaces. About two thirds of the houses that were built prior to 1960 contain lead-based paint.
So what do you need to know about lead paint before you start remodeling?
The Dust and Debris from Old Lead Paint
is a Health Hazard
This is an established fact, and has resulted in, not only the ban of lead in paint, but also various standards and regulations that deal with:
- identifying dangerous levels of lead in paint and dust (and in the soil),
- ways to protect people (particularly children under the age of six) from the dangers of lead,
- real estate disclosure requirements (so that if you buy a home you know whether or not you are taking on a lead paint hazard),
- approved ways to deal with any lead content in painted surfaces, dust or in the soil.
According to the EPA, the health problems caused by exposure to lead are horrendous, and can lead to “profound developmental and neurological impairment in children”. Lead poisoning, the agency warns, is linked to juvenile delinquency and violent behavior, learning disabilities and inadequate academic performance, as well as mental retardation, and even hearing loss.
The CPSC concurs, stating that, “Lead poisoning in children is associated with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and growth retardation.”
EPA statistics published in their Lead Fact Sheet reveal that close to a million children in the USA today have “dangerously elevated levels of lead in their blood”.
Get the Lead Out
Regulations and Standards Relating to Contractors Working with Anything Containing Lead…
In April 2010, the EPA introduced new regulations that make it illegal for uncertified people in the US to remove or disturb lead-based painted surfaces larger that 6² ft indoors and 20² ft in the yards and gardens of houses and child-occupied facilities that were built prior to 1978 when lead-based paint was banned.
Professional renovators, painters, HVAC repairmen, plumbers and electricians are all expected to be tested, and contracting businesses must apply for the official EPA certification. Only their trained, tested personnel are allowed to do the relevant work.
While the primary purpose of the regulations is to protect children from lead poisoning, trained contractors are, according to a flyer that is circulated by the Environmental Information Association, obliged to “follow specific work practices, such as containment, dust minimization and cleanup”. They are not permitted to use power tools or an open-flame method to remove old lead-based paint, unless there is approved exhaust control. When it comes to clean-up, they have to follow a “cleaning verification procedure” or have the area tested using dust wipes once the work is complete.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed even more stringent standards for workers. Aimed mainly at those working in industry, it specifies (amongst other things) the equipment and safety clothing that should be used when working with anything that contains lead. Paint is, of course, just one product that contained this toxic ingredient.
First you do need to establish whether the old paint is lead-based. If you don’t know, and can’t find out, and the house was built prior to the banning of these products, then you’re well advised to take precautions anyway.
When you work, follow these three simple EPA rules:
- Contain the work area.
- Minimize dust.
- Clean up thoroughly when you are through.
Scrape the paint off, and wear a mask and gloves so that you don’t inhale any potentially toxic dust or come into contact with it and risk it being absorbed through your skin.
And always remember that, as the EPA warns: “Renovation activities that disturb lead-based paint can create health hazards.”