By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
You’ve all heard about the dangers of lead paint, but what do you do if you discover lead paint in your home? It’s a very serious problem that will take time, effort and money to solve. But it’s not an impossible problem. You can successfully free your old home from lead paint and have a healthy, lead-free environment for your family.
From the early 19th century through the 1940s, most premium house paints contained lead. Some companies began to eliminate lead as early as 1950, and the government banned lead altogether in 1978.
Typically, you’ll find lead in exterior paint and in the paint on interior woodwork, interior closet walls, and kitchen and bath walls. Plaster walls and ceilings in bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms were not generally painted with lead paint, though you can’t be sure what might have been used through the years, so it never hurts to test all the paint in your home. To test your home, you can take paint samples to a lab or use a home test kit.
Baseboards, crown molding, doors, cabinets and certain walls and ceilings are all potential hiding places for lead paint in homes built before 1978. Exterior paint on older homes is even at greater risk of being lead-based.
The dangers of lead are many. For adults, lead can be absorbed into the blood stream, causing high blood pressure, anemia, memory lapses, digestive disorders, kidney damage, and reproductive problems. For children, the problems can be much more serious. Lead is a neurological toxin that interferes with brain development and can result in a lifetime of problems.
While a tiny paint chip contains enough lead to poison a child, the greatest danger for lead poisoning comes from paint dust. The finer the particle, the more readily it is absorbed by the human body. So during a remodel, a sledge hammer or a belt sander can wreak havoc in your home.
There are ways to correctly handle lead paint, and there are contractors who specialize in this type of work. The first step is to control dust. The area to be affected should be carefully isolated from the living area. Shut down the heating system, seal registers with plastic and duct tape, cover the floor with heavy plastic, and seal all doorways and openings for the duration of the job. Entry to the work area should be through a separate outside entrance. Any work that can be moved out of the house (such as sanding doors) should be taken to an off-site location. Wetting down the paint before disturbing it also helps contain dust.
Once the paint has been removed, thoroughly clean the area. Lead dust is so fine it can pass through a standard vacuum filter, so you need to use a HEPA filter. All surfaces should be washed down with a spray bottle of household detergent, then a squeeze-out bucket, and then a final rinse bucket. When you think the area is clean, you can do another lab test to confirm that the lead has been completely removed.
Exterior paint also needs to be handled with great care or you can contaminate a whole neighborhood. Your contractor should use a well-designed dust collection system. To avoid ground contamination, tape 6-mil plastic to the foundation and extend it 10 feet from the home.
Finally, remember to protect yourself. A half-face respirator with a HEPA filter is best, but if your exposure is limited, an N100 series disposable respirator may suffice. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.