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Lead paint risk when remodeling
Dear Ms. Builder: I live in a house that is about 30 years old. I have two daughters and I want to remodel to create another bedroom. There is a lot of painted woodwork. Should I be concerned about lead poisoning? - Cathy R.
Dear Cathy: In any house built before 1978, you MUST realize the possibility that lead paint was used. The year 1978 is often used because that is the year that lead was no longer allowed to be used in house and wall paint. Many European country's had already begun to limit lead's use in the 1800's.
Although people often think about possible lead poisoning when doing interior remodeling jobs, outdoor remodeling jobs can also allow contact with paint containing lead. Lead laced dust will not accumulate in the air outdoors like it does indoors, but inhaling the dust as you work or handling outdoor paint chips creates a hazard too.
Not all houses built before 1978 contain lead, but definitely have some paint samples tested before doing any work. You can contact your local EPA branch office or your health department for information on having the paint tested first. Also call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse (800-424-LEAD) for informational pamphlets.
If you do an Internet search, you will find many companies that offer lead test kits for about $10. Although many of them provide accurate tests, to be safe, it is best to stick with EPA recommended or professional testing.
Keep in mind that older homes probably have many layers of paint, so the lead paint many be buried well below the surface. If the lower layers are not disturbed by remodeling, a dog chewing, etc., it is not a significant hazard. Don't just try to remove all the old paint to eliminate lead.
If you have done previous remodeling work in your house yourself and were not aware of the lead poisoning hazard, a simple blood test can determine if you or your children have lead poisoning. It is estimated that 1 out of every 11 children in the U.S. have dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstream. Many do not show any obvious symptoms of lead poisoning.
Lead is typically introduced in the body by mouth and breathing. A child or pet can either eat paint that chips off or chew on a painted surface. Just the friction from between painted surfaces on doors and windows, as they open and close, can create airborne and settled lead laced dust.
People often ask why such a dangerous chemical as lead was ever used in paint in homes in the first place. Lead is an excellent material to increase the opacity of paint, so that the new paint will hide what is beneath it. It was also used in some clear varnishes for a drying agent.
If you have your paint tested and no lead is detected, then go ahead and start your remodeling job yourself. Even though no lead is present, it is still wise to block off the work area to minimize inhaled dust of any kind. ZipWall (800-718-2255) makes easy-to-use spring-loaded supports to quickly build a plastic film wall around your project.
If lead was detected in your test sample, DO NOT attempt to do any of the remodeling work yourself. You will need to have a professional remodeler, well versed in working with lead paint, do the work for you. Until the work is started, paint over any areas where paint is exposed and advise your children not to touch them.
You might consider changes to your cleaning habits in a house with lead paint present. Wet mopping is best to minimize airborne lead as you clean. A high-quality HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaner would be a good choice. A central vacuum, that vents outdoors, would be even better.
Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder