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Lead Based Paint Information -  Health Hazard & EPA's Safety Regulations

Lead Based Paint
One of the most significant safety concerns relating to painting projects and renovations is the possibility of encountering lead based paint. Below you'll find basic safety info on lead based paint, information on how to protect yourself and your family, as well as info on the effects of lead poisoning and the history of lead based paint.

  1. What do I need to know about lead based paint?
  • Lead based paint is one of the primary sources of lead poisoning in the US (the other two most common causes are lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated soil).
  • Lead poisoning is a very serious condition which can cause a wide variety of devastating and potentially permanent health conditions.
  • Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to harm from lead poisoning.
  • Most structures built before 1978 contain heavily leaded paint.
  • Caution must be used when performing renovations or construction in buildings older than 1978.
  • As of April 22nd, 2010, all construction contractors (including paint contractors) who perform work in pre-1978 housing are required by federal law to be certified in and compliant with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) regulation.
    1. Where is lead based paint found?
  • Most structures built before 1978 contain coats of heavily leaded paint on both interior and exterior surfaces. Most of the time these older coats have been painted over with safer, non-leaded paints.
  • Lead based paint is still used today in certain industrial and military applications.
    1. How might a person be exposed to lead?

      Lead enters the body either through inhalation or ingestion of contaminated dust, soil, or paint chips.

      1. Construction or renovation on older buildings, as well as degrading, chalking, chipping, or peeling paint can create paint chips or paint dust
      2. Generally speaking, lead based paint that is undisturbed and in good condition is not a hazard, however when it is disturbed or damaged it may become airborne or flake off onto the ground where pets and small children may ingest it or where it may be ground into dust and become airborne.
    2. What can I do to protect myself and my family from lead paint?
      1. If you don't already know whether your home contains lead based paint, contact your local EPA office and arrange for a test to be performed.
      2. Children should receive blood tests at ages one and two. Have anyone who has possibly been exposed to lead contamination tested.
      3. Have any damaged or failing paint surface that might contain heavily leaded paint promptly repaired by a contractor certified in and compliant with the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) regulation. Signs of failing paint include bubbling, cracking, peeling, blistering, or chalking surfaces.
      4. For any remodeling, painting, or repairs use a contractor who is certified in and compliant with the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) regulation.


    3. Can I have lead contamination removed from my house?
      1. No, undisturbed lead based paint does not pose a threat therefore the emphasis is on containing rather than removing lead based paint.

    Tests for Lead Based Paint
    There are three tests that can be preformed to test a property for lead based paint: a Lead Based Paint Inspection, a Risk Assessment, and a Lead Hazard Screen.

    1. Lead Based Paint Inspection: Lead based paint inspections consist of a surface by surface testing of painted surfaces in and around the home to check for the presence of lead. Surfaces to be tested include anything that is coated with paint, shellac, varnish, stain, coating, and paint covered by wallpaper.

      Generally speaking painted furniture is not tested unless it is structurally part of the building such as built in cabinets. The final product of the test should be an inventory of all the painted surfaces inside and outside your home and the results of the test for each surface. Note the results should be specific numerical values as opposed to just 'positive' or 'negative'.

    2. Risk Assessment: A risk assessment's focus is less on indexing all the painted surfaces in the home and assessing their lead quantities and more on evaluated potential lead hazards such as chipping paint, children's rooms, potentially contaminated dust near degrading paint, etc. In strict risk assessment tests, only areas identified as potential hazards are tested while areas that are considered safe, such as undamaged painted surfaces, are not be tested.

      Often times lead-based paint inspections and risk assessments are combined. It is important to note that risk assessments are snapshots of a home's current risks; new risks can arise if surfaces containing leaded paints are disturbed, damaged, or start to degrade.

    3. Lead Hazard Screen Lead Hazard Screens are a trimmed down version of the risk assessment test. Lead hazard screens are generally used in instances where it is not believed that the property has any lead based risks. Newer buildings or older buildings that have been kept in tip top shape may be good candidates for lead hazard screens.

      The results of a lead hazard screen will either indicate that lead contamination might be present and a risk assessment test and/or lead based paint inspection should be preformed, or that lead contamination is not present and no further action is required.

    Health Hazards
    Lead poisoning causes a vast array of potentially devastating health problems. The effects of lead poisoning on children are more severe than they are on adults. Lead is absorbed into the body either by ingestion or inhalation of leaded paint chips or lead contaminated dust.

    Lead is extremely toxic to most tissues in the human body, disrupts many bodily processes, and interferes with the functioning of every organ system in the body, particularly the nervous system. As such, the potential complications and symptoms of lead poisoning are vast, but most notably lead poisoning can lead to neurological problems, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and reproductive problems such as low sperm count.

    Pregnant women with exposure to lead have higher rates of complications including miscarriage and prematurity. Fetuses are susceptible to lead poisoning from the mother during pregnancy which can result in developmental problems for the fetus. Mothers can also pass lead through breast milk to nursing children.

    Early signs and symptoms of lead poisoning are varied and easily confused with other illnesses. They include irritability, persistent tiredness, abdominal pain or discomfort, short attention span or trouble concentrating, constipation, insomnia, and headache. Lead screenings should be proactive.

    History of Lead Based Paint
    Lead has been added mostly to oil based 'alkyd' paints for decades both for pigmentation and because of lead's performance enhancing capabilities. Lead based paints dry faster, have increased durability, are more resilient to moisture damage, and maintain their like-new appearance longer than their non leaded counterparts. Lead(II) chromate (PbCrO4, "chrome yellow") and lead(II) carbonate (PbCO3, "white lead") were often used as pigments. Lead based paint has been used in virtually all applications, from primer to top coat, on virtually all surfaces from industrial metals to woodwork and drywall.

    Roughly two-thirds of homes built in the United States before 1940 and about one-half of homes built between 1940 and 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint.

    In 1978 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reduced the maximum allowable lead content in residential paint to a trace amount, 0.06%. However, in the U.S. lead based paints are still used in military, industrial, and artistic applications.




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