If you're renovating your home, you'll soon have to take extra care to avoid exposing children to lead-tainted dust during the process.
The Environmental Protection Agency has settled a 2008 lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and others, who had criticized the EPA's long-delayed rule on avoiding lead dust contamination during renovation. (Congress originally passed a law requiring the EPA to set rules way back in 1992, but the EPA only got around to it in 2008, after pressure from then-Senator Obama and others.)
The settlement means that the EPA will drop an exemption for certain owner-occupied housing, and set new requirements for renovators to inform the owner and the occupant how the work was done and confirm that the work was done safely at the end of the job. Certified professionals will be required to test for lead contamination after home renovations (less than one-tenth of one gram of lead dust is enough to contaminate a 2,000-square-foot home and poison a child, according to the Sierra Club). There will also be more-strict guidelines for renovating the exteriors of high-hazard public and commercial buildings. The new requirements must be drafted and put into the public record; they will take effect between 2010 and 2013.
The existing rule requires contractors to provide information about lead paint to homeowners and tenants now, and by 2010, contractors will have to be certified in order to perform work on older buildings that may have lead paint on the walls.
Why? Lead dust is the most common way for children and pregnant women to be exposed to lead. Exposure in utero, or before the age of six, can cause permanent brain damage, reducing IQ and causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems. In adults, it can cause high blood pressure and hyper tension, and it can be deadly to people and pets of all ages in large doses.
If you're renovating, ask yourself these questions:
Was Your Home Built Before 1978?
Before lead paint was banned in 1978, it was used in 38 million homes, and many other public buildings -- including day care centers and schools. If an older building is undergoing renovation, it's likely that it contains lead paint, and should be handled with expert care to avoid contaminating the indoor environment.
To determine if your home does have lead paint, either use a home testing kit available at hardware stores, hire a certified professional to test for lead (call 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) to find one), or just assume that your home has lead.
If your home was built before 1940, there's a 78% chance it has lead paint. Built between 1940 and 1960, and there's a 69% chance. Built between 1960 and 1978 and there's a 24% chance.
Do I Have to Do this Project Now?
If you are living with a pregnant woman or children under the age of six, think twice about starting a renovation project. Pregnant women and children under the age of six are most vulnerable to exposure to lead dust, which can be inhaled or contaminate surfaces in the home. Young children are likely to pick up dust crawling on the floor and playing with toys, and they are likely to put dirty hands in their mouths.
Is the Work Area Quarantined?
The safest way to perform renovations is to separate the area being worked on from the rest of the home, so as to avoid spreading contaminated dust throughout the living space. That means ensuring you have access to all necessary rooms -- bedroom, bathroom and kitchen -- via a route that does not lead through the renovation area. It means providing a separate entrance, if possible, for those performing the work. It means keeping pets out of the work area. It means forced air heating and air conditioning systems should be shut off while work is being done to prevent dust from entering the duct work. It means posting warning signs and using heavy-duty plastic and tape to cover floors, furniture that can't be moved, doors, heating and cooling system vents and anything else that might be contaminated with lead dust.
Is Your Contractor Trained to Deal with Lead Paint?
If you do plan work, your contractor should be able to produce a copy of his or her training certificate. Ask what lead-safe methods the contractor plans to use, if he or she is aware of lead renovation rules and if the contractor has references you can consult.
Write a clear contract that spells out how the work area will be set up, performed and cleaned. Particularly, be sure that dust and debris is confined to the work area, that it be cleaned and tested before the job is considered finished.
Hold your contractor accountable with the contract, or call in help from the local health or building department, or the EPA.
Are You or Your Contractor Using Lead-Safe Techniques?
To minimize dust, use water to mist areas before sanding or scraping; score paint before separating components; and pry or pull apart components instead of breaking them. If using sanding, grinding, planing, needle gunning, or blasting power tools, always use a shroud and a HEPA vacuum attachment. Never use open flame burning or torching or a heat gun with a temperature above 1,100 degrees (F).
Is the Work Site Cleaned Properly?
Daily cleanup will prevent some dust from accumulating or being spread around. The final clean up should employ special cleaning methods -- before removing any plastic -- that uses a HEPA vacuum, and wet-mopping with plenty of rinse water.
To test that the area was cleaned adequately, the contractor should use disposable cleaning cloths to wipe the floor of the work area and compare them to a cleaning verification card to determine if the work area was adequately cleaned. Or, have the area tested by a lead professional, who will send samples to an independent laboratory. Be sure to make clear in the original contract how the area will be tested and who will do the testing.
Are You a Do-It-Yourself Renovator?
To get more detailed information about safely handling renovation projects yourself, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).
Are You Doing All You Can to Prevent Lead Poisoning?
Even when renovations are complete, or if you opt not to renovate, an older home can produce harmful lead dust. Keep surfaces and your child's hands clean, get children's blood tested and maintain a good diet. For detailed tips, see The Daily Green's: Six Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips.
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