Reducing Lead Hazards from Paint and Soil
Most homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. When the paint deteriorates, or is disturbed during painting or renovation projects, it can pose a serious lead hazard especially for young children.
If you think you may have lead hazards in your home, reducing lead hazards will probably mean taking care of some deferred maintenance and making sure that painted surfaces are in good condition. It may not be possible to do everything right away, but there are some things that can be done now to keep children's exposure to a minimum.
If you decide to hire a contractor to do lead hazard reduction work or painting we recommend that you use a contractor that has been trained in lead safe work practices and be pro-active in monitoring their work. Federal law now requires workers who disturb pre-1978 painted surfaces to be trained in lead safety and firms to be EPA certified. For more information see our guidance on How to Hire a Lead-Safe Contractor which includes a list of local lead-safe certified renovators. More information is also available on the EPA website at www.epa.gov/getleadsafe.
- Immediate Actions You Can Take
- Interim Controls
- Permanent Abatement
- What Not To Do
- What To Do
- Protective Clothing
- Cleaning Up
Immediate Actions You Can Take
Clean the Home: The immediate source of lead hazards is often dust. If you have peeling lead based paint or contaminated bare soil, there will be a certain amount of lead in the household dust. The first thing to do to is to get rid of the dust by cleaning the house. This should include regular wet cleaning areas that sometimes get overlooked, like the interior and exterior window sills. Even if you don't have peeling paint, there is enough lead in the environment that any accumulation of dust may have some lead in it. Wash hard surfaces thoroughly with a good household detergent. For carpets, invest in a HEPA vacuum cleaner. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. HEPA is a special filter which traps very small particles of dust that would go through an ordinary filter. HEPA vacuum cleaners are available for under $300.
Lead is not the only reason to have a good vacuum cleaner. If you or your kids have asthma or allergies, a HEPA vacuum will help keep your house free of dust, pollen, and other materials that can affect your health.
Barriers: Sometimes there are just a few locations that present most of the lead hazards in a house, for example, a window sill with peeling paint where a child spends a lot of time. By keeping the child away from that area, you can reduce the immediate hazard before you make permanent repairs. This can be done by putting a barrier such as furniture in front of the window sill, covering it with duct tape, or by simply keeping the child out of that room.
Lead--Remove it or Live with it?
If you find out that you do have lead, there are two approaches to dealing with it. The first is Permanent Abatement, which means removing the hazards in such a way that there will be no lead exposure for at least 20 years. Permanent abatement usually involves either removing all lead based paint or permanently covering it. This has the advantage of being a long term solution, but it can be costly and may disturb large amounts of paint, increasing the risk of creating more contamination. The other approach is Interim Controls. Interim Controls are methods of maintaining the house so that paint stays intact and lead does not get into your child's environment. It is usually less expensive than abatement and just as effective as long as it is followed up with good maintenance. Whatever approach you choose, Safe work methods make the difference between reducing lead hazards or making them worse.
Paint: Interim Controls are used to safely keep lead in place, usually by carefully preparing and then painting over existing lead based paint. Even though the lead is still in place, it is no longer as hazardous if people are not exposed to the chips and dust. Most of the work involved is repainting and window and door repair. Some examples are repairing doors so they do not rub the jamb, or lubricating windows to minimize friction against the painted parts of the window system. If you are doing this work yourself we recommend taking a training in lead-safe work practices, reading Lead Paint Safety, and using the Lead-Safe Supply List before beginning the work.
Soil: Contaminated soil is also hazardous if it is exposed, especially if it is in a play area. However, if you cover it with landscaping, you can prevent people from being exposed to lead even though you leave it where it is. This can be accomplished by planting sod in lawn areas, and placing ground cover or mulch in bed areas. Shrubs can be used as a barrier; for example, a row of junipers along the house tends to keep kids from playing in the high risk area next to the house. A fence can do the same thing. It is a good idea to create a safe play area like a sand box, to give kids an alternative place to play, away from contaminated soil. Whenever loose material like sand or wood chips is put down over contaminated soil in a traffic or play area, a weed-block fabric should be placed under it and at least six inches of the covering material placed. Watering and maintenance are crucial to keeping your garden lead safe. More information is available on our soil page and gardening page.
Paint Removal: When most people think about abatement, they think of paint removal. Paint can be removed by hand scraping aided by chemical strippers or a heat gun to soften the paint. You can also remove it by using one of an array of power tools if you attach them to a HEPA Vacuum to catch the dust that would otherwise be spread around. There are two major disadvantages to paint removal. The first is that it is difficult to remove paint from wood or plaster. After all, paint is designed to stay on, not come off. The second disadvantage is that, if you are not very careful, the potential for contaminating your house and poisoning yourself is high. Lead that is relatively harmless when stuck to the wall in the form of paint becomes more hazardous when removed from what it's stuck to, pulverized into little pieces (dust and chips), and is scattered around.
Replacement: It is often easier to remove and replace the whole component than trying to strip the paint off. This is an especially good idea if the component is in poor condition and needs replacement anyway. A good example might be wood windows. In addition to permanently removing the lead, you may replace a worn out window with a new one that is more energy efficient and attractive, as well as easier to open. Another example of replacement is rebuilding an old exterior stairway. If it is in need of repair anyway, replacing it will improve the building both by removing the lead and by providing a structurally sound and safe stairway.
Enclosure: Enclosure means covering the painted surface with a solid permanent barrier like sheet rock, paneling, new siding or some other type of building material. An example of this is covering a painted floor with underlayment and vinyl floor covering. Once again, you can achieve two results with one action. You end up with a better floor surface and eliminate the lead hazards. Another good use of an enclosure would be covering a cracked plaster ceiling with sheet rock. Please note, wall paper is not considered an enclosure.
Encapsulation: Encapsulation is the use of a special type of coating that bonds with the existing paint to form a barrier that lasts longer than ordinary paint. Encapsulants are usually more expensive than paint and may be a little more difficult to apply. Because of their thickness, they may either cover surface imperfections or fill in architectural detail. Some encapsulants have an anti-ingestant that makes them taste bitter to most children to reduce the likelihood of the children chewing on the paint.
Soil abatement: You can permanently abate soil by removing the top 4 to 6 inches of soil and then replacing it with clean topsoil. If you do this, make sure the new soil is also lead safe, testing no more than 200 ppm for lead. Another option is to permanently pave the area with concrete or asphalt.
Work Methods: When you are working with lead, it is not just what you do, but how you do it. Some of the standard methods of paint preparation are hazardous if there is lead in the paint you are working on.
What Not To Do
NO Pressure Washing: It may be a fast and easy way to clean the exterior of a building, but if you don't control the runoff, the lead coming off the house can contaminate the soil, and go through the storm drain system and end up polluting the bay. Sometimes the lead residue also finds its way into the house. If you must pressure wash, the safe way is to collect all the runoff water and pump it through a 20 micron water filter, then dispose of it in the sanitary sewer (dump it down the toilet).
NO Power Sanding: Many painters use either a disc sander or belt sander to smooth rough edges or to remove paint. Unfortunately, when there is lead in the paint, it also creates a lot of toxic dust that can be breathed in by the person doing the sanding or eaten by children who put their hands in the dust on a floor or window sill. Pets will also be at risk. If you use a power sander make sure you know how to control the dust. The safe way is to use a sander that can be attached to a HEPA vacuum to collect the dust so it doesn't get scattered around.
NO Open Flame Burning: This is probably the fastest way to poison yourself with lead. The heat of the flame releases lead fumes that you breathe in as you work. Some painters have been severely poisoned by using torches to remove paint on older homes. A HEPA respirator will not stop all the lead if it is turned into a fume.
NO Dry Scraping: Scraping paint creates a lot of airborne dust that later settles out on flat surfaces. Mist the area first with a spray bottle to keep the dust under control.
What To Do
Keep the dust to a minimum: Whenever you are disturbing lead painted surfaces, there is potential for scattering lead dust around. The thing to always keep in mind is the importance of controlling the dust. It is a lot easier to control dust by not generating it than by containing it, that is why it is important to choose the method that creates the smallest amount of dust. This usually means you do it by hand and you keep it wet. The safest way to prepare a surface for repainting is to mist the surface with a spray bottle and scrape the loose and peeling paint off with a scraper. If you need to do some sanding to smooth the edges, you can use a wet sanding sponge. This approach is labor intensive, but you will create very little airborne dust using wet methods.
Keeping everyone out of the work area and the dust in: Don't let people wander in and out of your work area; especially children. Children, pets and women who are or may be pregnant or who are breast-feeding should not be in the work area. Put up caution tape and signs and seal off doors. Use plastic sheeting and tape to seal off the work area and cover surfaces that aren't being worked on. Be careful when leaving the work area to avoid tracking dust to other parts of the home.
Inside: Depending on the work area, lay down up to two layers of 6 mil polyethylene (plastic) sheeting on the floor and secure it with duct tape. But remember, duct tape may take paint off when it is removed. If you use it on finished surfaces, plan on repairing the surface when you're done. You may want to use blue painters tape on painted surfaces that you don't want to repaint. If you will be generating airborne dust, you will need to cover the doors with plastic sheeting with a flap to let you in and out. Cover all other openings like furnace registers. Turn off the furnace and keep windows closed to prevent dust from spreading.
Outside: Lay down a piece of 6 mil plastic sheeting on the ground next to the building. This will be your "drop cloth". Secure it to the building with staples and/or duct tape so debris won't fall behind the sheeting and contaminate the soil. Extend the plastic out far enough to catch any debris; if you're painting the wall of a one story house, ten feet out is a good amount. For smaller areas, windows and specific elements of design, at least five feet out from the work area in all directions. In many cases you don't have that much room, so you may need to put up a vertical barrier to prevent contaminated debris from ending up on the neighbor's property. Windows, doors and other openings in buildings within 20 feet should be sealed.
Ideal Containment: Containment needs to be sufficient to capture all the dust and chips. Ideally, you would completely seal off the area, including furnace ducts, windows, doors. Then you would have a three-stage decontamination chamber complete with a shower that you would go through each time you leave the work area. Also you would have negative air pressure to make sure that all the air that goes out is filtered first.
However, you can use common sense when deciding how much containment you use. You don't need to do a full containment of a room just to scrape a couple of square feet of wall. Just make sure that any material you scrape is contained and gets cleaned up. Don't track contaminated dust out of your work area.
For more information on containment, refer to the "Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2012 Edition.
HUD USER at 1-800-245-2691
Respirator: If you are creating lead dust or fumes while working, you can breathe in the lead particles and get lead poisoning. A HEPA respirator prevents you from breathing in dust that may contain lead, but it will not stop fumes. This is not the same as the thin particle mask that many construction workers wear. The difference is that this has a HEPA filter that traps even the smallest lead particles and it should fit your face snugly with no gaps where air can get in around the mask. Some people cannot wear a respirator for medical reasons. Be sure to read the instructions and cautions before using it. Remember that you can't burn the paint with a torch because it creates a fume that the respirator cannot capture.
Disposable Coveralls: This keeps lead contamination off your clothes. You wear the coveralls while you are working, vacuum them and take them off before you leave the work area so you don't carry the lead contamination into the rest of the house. If you don't have disposable coveralls, wash your work clothes separately from other clothes.
Shoe Covers: Shoe covers are one of the best things to prevent carrying contaminated dust out of the work area. Because lead is heavy, it settles to the floor and most of the lead you take off the surface is going to end up the plastic sheeting that you have covering the floor. If you are not careful it will get carried on your shoes out of the area. If you cover your shoes with these, you can leave the dust in the work area and keep your shoes relatively clean.
HEPA Vacuum: High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum cleaners are specially designed to trap fine particles of hazardous material that might go through an ordinary filter. A HEPA vacuum cleaner should be used anytime you are conducting paint disturbing work in a pre-1978 building.
After lead removal work: If you are generating lead dust and debris, you should keep the work area clean as you go. If you keep the mess to a minimum, you keep the risk of contamination to a minimum. When you finish working, you will need to decontaminate your tools, yourself, and the work area. First vacuum the work area, the tools, and your protective clothing with the HEPA vacuum. Wipe down the tools, including the vacuum cleaner with a wet sponge or rag. Put paint chips and contaminated items in 6 mil plastic bags, twist the neck, folded over and wrap it with duct tape. HEPA vacuum the plastic sheeting and then wet clean it before you dispose of it. Fold or roll up plastic sheeting with the up side in.
Vacuum the surfaces you worked on and then all horizontal surfaces starting with the highest and working to the lowest. Start at the farthest point from the entrance and work toward the entrance. Vacuum slowly and thoroughly.
Wet Wash all hard surfaces with a lead specific cleaner like Ledizolv or other detergent. You are not just cleaning, you are decontaminating. Use at least two different buckets and preferably three. One bucket holds the solution. You want this to stay as clean as possible so you can remove the lead and not just smear it around. So use another bucket to wring the dirty water into and a third one with clean rinse water. Rinse and wring the mop or sponge a few times before putting it back into the cleaning solution. Change the rinse water often. If the cleaning solution starts to look dirty, change it too. Remember, all water goes down the toilet. After you wet clean, vacuum one more time with the HEPA vacuum.
Property owners are usually exempt from hazardous waste disposal regulations, but depending on what you do, some of your debris may actually be considered hazardous waste and should be handled with care. To make disposal as easy as possible, separate the waste into hazardous and non-hazardous. Paint that has been removed from the surface is likely to test positive as hazardous waste. Generally, wood with intact paint on it can be disposed of with other construction debris. Plastic sheeting that you have thoroughly cleaned after use would also not be hazardous. You may be eligible to dispose of the hazardous waste through the Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Program. They request that you transport the waste in 5 gallon buckets lined with a 6-mil thickness bag or doubled trash compactor bags. Their web-site is http://www.household-hazwaste.org/. Their phone number is (510) 670-6460.
Wash up: When you are done, vacuum and remove your protective clothing, wash off your face and hands, and wipe off your respirator. After everything else is clean, remove your respirator and take a shower or bath.
Don't forget to wash your hands!