Lead-based paint refers to paint that contains lead as an additive. Lead is used in order to speed up drying process and increase durability. It’s also known for improving the paints moisture resistant properties, thus reducing corrosion or rot. You’ll notice above that I stated lead “is” used. That’s because, though the United States had banned the use of lead in household paints back in 1978, there are still countries in which lead continues to be added to household paint. According to Reuters, over 32% of household paint sold in China and nearly 90% sold in Thailand contained levels of lead that would make them illegal in the United States.
The problem with lead is that it’s a highly toxic metal which can cause a range of health problems --especially in young children. Lead has been proven to have an adverse effect on developing nervous systems, both in the womb as well as during childhood. The good news is, if your home was built after 1978, chances are there is no lead-based paint to worry about. Homes built prior to that are likely to have levels of lead to some degree. The danger comes from dust and paint chips throughout the house that can be ingested or inhaled. There is also the likelihood of contaminated soil outside the home from years of paint scraping and fallen chips.
Though the potential presence of lead can make the idea of removing it sound troublesome--even frightening, this process can still be done safely as long as proper precautions are taken into consideration. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a wealth of information online here that can help.
According to the EPA, there are some basic things you can do on a routine basis, in order to keep homes that contain lead-based paint safe:
- Wipe down flat surfaces with a damp, disposable rag or paper towel regularly.
- Hard surface flooring should be damp mopped weekly to control dust.
- Shoes should be removed when entering the home.
- Vacuum regularly, using HEPA filters wherever possible.
- Be on the lookout for loose paint chips and remove them immediately.
- Have the home professionally tested for lead hazards.
The job of removing lead paint, or dealing with it during a home remodel can be done safely with the right equipment. The EPA recommends the following:
- A high-efficiency HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner.
- Use of a NIOSH certified respirator, equipped with HEPA filters. Just as important, you need to ensure that the respirator provides a proper fit. Common dust filters and dust masks are not effective in filtering out lead particles.
- Make sure that protective clothing is worn. This includes coveralls, hats, goggles, gloves and face shields. For added protection and convenience, disposable protective suits are also available.
- Control the spread of lead dust from escaping the work area by using plastic sheeting. Hold the sheeting in place with duct tape.
- When sanding lead paint surfaces, utilize the wet sanding methods. These include sandpaper and other abrasives specifically designed for wet use, as well as wet sanding sponges. Having a spray bottle nearby to keep the surfaces damp and reduce the spread of dust is also a good idea.
- Other cleaning supplies such as buckets, mops and ringers, and heavy-duty plastic bags should be on hand to make the cleanup go as quickly as possible.
- Removal of lead-based paint by using a heat gun or torch is not recommended, since the fumes can be highly toxic.
More information on reducing lead hazards when remodeling your home can be found in this PDF, provided by the EPA. When you are ready to tackle the job, keep in mind that we are available with all of the materials and advice that you’ll need to safely get the job done.