Over the past couple of years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been tightening the rules contractors must follow to avoid spreading lead-tainted dust during home renovation projects. The rules are also useful guidelines for home do-it-yourselfers, particularly if you're doing it yourself in a home built before 1978 that is likely to have lead paint on the walls, even if it's buried under wallpaper or layers of more recent paint.
If children or pregnant women are exposed to lead dust, it could cause permanent brain damage and lifelong deficiencies. That's why lead was ordered removed from paint, gas and, most recently, toys.
The new rules require things like the use of plastic sheeting to avoid spreading dust outside the work area, spraying water mist to tamp down dust and thoroughly cleaning work areas each day. (For more details, see 8 questions to ask about lead before starting a home renovation project.)
But in a turnaround, the EPA just decided not to require contractors to test that their lead-safe techniques actually kept lead dust away.
If workers follow the rules, lead should not become a problem. That's EPA's stated reasoning, anyway. Its decision could also have something to do with sustained attacks from some members of Congress and Republican presidential candidates, who have been accusing the agency of making health and environmental regulations of that hurt business.
Watchdogs, like the National Center for Healthy Housing, criticized the decision. (They've been criticizing the agency on this subject for decades, since the EPA only tightened the rules in 2008, 16 years after Congress passed a law mandating greater protection for children from lead dust during home renovations.) The center urges that homeowners and landlords should insist on clearance testing after work is completed. Here are some facts and tips from the EPA about ordering your own clearance testing:
Require clearance testing in your contract before work begins. Contractors are not required to perform lead-dust testing by law, so you must specify your preference ahead of time. Also indicate in the contract who is responsible for additional cleaning if the test results show the presence of lead.
Hire a professional to perform lead-dust testing. To locate a lead professional who will perform an evaluation near you, visit epa.gov or call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-5323.
Lead-dust tests are wipe samples that must be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The lab report will indicate if lead dust was present at the time of the tests.
DIY kits are available from some EPA-recognized labs for home lead-dust testing. For a list of EPA-approved labs, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-5323.
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