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Lead was a principal ingredient in 87 percent of exterior and interior paints before 1940 and 69 percent between 1940 and 1959. Between 1960 and 1978, lead paint use began to diminish first to about 50 percent then to 25 percent of housing by 1978 as acrylic paint gradually began to be introduced. Because of its significant health risks, lead was banned from use in paint in the United States on January 1, 1978 although in much of Europe it had been banned by 1909. EPA , Lead Safety for Renovation, Repair and Painting, EPA-740-R-09-002 at 36 (2011).

How Lead in Paint Is Released and Ingested

Many homeowners have become aware by virtue of publications by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the hazards of lead paint but are unaware of the procedures for dealing with lead paint when performing any activity, including plastering, painting, and repairs and, of course, remodeling. The first critically important issue to understand is that lead is a danger without regard to peeling paint. There is an urban legend that children become lead poisoned by ingesting chips of lead paint that have peeled. This has lulled those living in well-maintained housing that does not have such peeling paint into a false sense of security. For example, normal operation of doors and windows with no peeling paint produces lead dust. Children typically do not ingest paint chips as the source of lead poisoning. Rather, the lead particles are so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are microscopic dust which a child gathers on her hands and feet while crawling or playing on the floor. She eventually puts her hand in her mouth and these tiny particles are extremely well absorbed into the bloodstream. The body perceives lead the same as it does calcium, a vital nutrient, and therefore stores it in bones and other organs, including the brain. There is no safe level of lead. If lead poisoning is discovered shortly after contact, there is a very short window during which the blood can be ameliorated through a painful process. Beyond that, however, the body will have stored the lead in organs and becomes irretrievable. The consequences of lead poisoning are truly horrific.

How Much Lead Does It Take to Create a Health Hazard?

What is not generally understood is just how very small a change can cause lead poisoning. Even if one is only painting a room which has no lead paint on the surface, there is risk. In many cases, one may plaster depressions or cracks to smooth the walls prior to painting. Sanding may release lead even though it is in a layer far beneath the layer being painted. Removing a small section of baseboard or a door or window and replacing it, similarly can disturb enough lead to cause a health hazard even with no sanding.

A tiny amount of painted surface that is disturbed easily can release the .04 ounce of lead that can contaminate a large area with microscopic lead particles sufficient to poison. A one gallon bucket of lead paint had about 12 pounds of lead so .04 ounce is a tiny amount of paint, say the size of a nickel. If your house, apartment or condo was built before January 1, 1978 there is a substantial likelihood that it contains lead paint. Before undertaking even the smallest amount of work, you should contact an EPA Certified Lead Renovator to test the areas to be disturbed. The test for lead paint can be performed and the results given within a matter of minutes. 

How Can Lead Be Controlled?

An EPA Certified Lead Renovator such as Belveder has the specialized tests, tools and the procedures to get the job done without compromising health.  First, we test for lead in suspected areas, with the results available within minutes.  We then build a containment structure and confine any dust within it. Our trained personnel wear personal protective equipment including a disposable jump suit with hood, booties, face masks and gloves, all of which are inverted in the containment chamber and bagged for disposal so that they leave the containment area lead free. Any trim or other material removed is wrapped in plastic before removal from the containment chamber. Sanding and other procedures that could create dust particles are prohibited absent a shrouded cover with a HEPA vacuum attached.  Most HEPA vacuums, though containing a HEPA filter, are inadequate because the dust bag chamber is not hermetically sealed allowing dust to escape. Such a HEPA vacuum should not be used.  A true HEPA vacuum for removing lead is far more expensive than what one can find at a conventional retailer and is generally not available to rent.  The most lethal lead exposure arises from aerosolized lead created by using heat to remove paint or from a fire.  Open flame torches and heat guns are banned from use if lead is present.  If you experience even a small kitchen fire, evacuate and call in a specialist to purify the air before returning.


OSHA requires that employees undertaking renovation not be exposed essentially to ANY amount of lead.  You should maintain that same standard for yourself and your family.  If you are a DIY and expect to undertake a number of projects, take the EPA course and buy the expensive true HEPA vacuum and other specialized protective gear and tools for safe lead removal. By Carmen D. Legato, EPA Certified Lead Renovator

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