Lead and Your Health - Part 3

Reducing Lead Hazards when Remodeling your Home

The US EPA is concerned about homeowners and building professionals who may be exposed to lead as a result of remodeling or renovation projects. The purpose of this section is to help reduce lead exposure when conducting home renovation and remodeling activities.

  • Who Should Read This Section?

This section is for anyone involved in a home improvement project - whether you are actually doing the work yourself or overseeing the work of renovation and remodeling professionals. Using the described practices will help keep lead dust levels lower during the project and protect homeowners and children. They also will reduce the amount of lead dust inhaled and show how to clean up lead dust once the project is completed.

This section can help homeowners and contractors do remodeling or renovation work safely. It will alert you to the hazards involved in handling lead-based painted surfaces and will provide useful methods you can use to reduce or eliminate exposures to lead. If you are uncertain how to properly perform any of these methods or where to be properly fitted for a respirator, you may want to call on a trained contractor or call your State lead program.

This section is not intended for use as a guide for lead-based paint abatement procedures. Unlike remodeling and renovation activities, "abatement" is a process used only to address lead-based paint hazards. EPA has promulgated regulations for certification and training of professionals engaged in lead abatement. You should check with your State lead program for further information on these regulations.

EPA has proposed a rule requiring renovation and remodeling contractors to provide the EPA pamphlet, Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home, to homeowners and occupants of most pre-1978 homes before they begin work. You should call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse (800-424-LEAD) to get further information on the availability of the pamphlet.

  • Lead Hazards

Is my family okay? Renovation and remodeling activities can make a lot of dust that contains lead in and around your home. If you are concerned that your family has been exposed to lead-based paint, call your doctor or local health department to arrange for a blood test.

Lead-based paint is poisonous. The smallest lead dust particles cannot be seen but they can get into the body. The dust and chips from lead-based paint are dangerous when swallowed or inhaled, especially to small children and pregnant women. Lead can affect children's developing nervous systems, causing reduced IQ and learning disabilities. In adults, high lead levels can cause high blood pressure, headaches, digestive problems, memory and concentration problems, kidney damage, mood changes, nerve disorders, sleep disturbances, and muscle or joint pain. A single, very high exposure to lead can cause lead poisoning. Lead can also affect the ability of both women and men to have healthy children.

A home built in or after 1978 should not contain lead-based paint since lead-based paint was banned for use in residences in 1978; however, a home built before 1978 is likely to have surfaces painted with lead-based paint. If you work on these painted surfaces, you can be exposed to lead. Even if the lead-based paint has been covered with new paint or another covering, cracked or chipped painted surfaces can expose the lead-based paint, possibly creating a lead hazard. Dry-sanding, scraping, brushing, or blasting lead-based paint can produce dust and paint chips. Burning lead-based paint with open flame torches to make it easier to strip is especially dangerous. The fumes from the hot paint contain lead and volatile chemicals that are poisonous when inhaled.

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Figure 154: Be concerned if your home was built before 1978. It may have lead-based hazards.


  • Will the job create lead hazards?

Can I do the work? It is extremely important that you properly use all the methods in this section in order to protect you and your family from lead dust, both during and after the project. Unless you can follow all of the work practices and safety precautions in this section, you should hire professionals to do your renovation or remodeling work. If you decide to hire remodeling professionals, make sure they have training and experience in dealing with the hazards of remodeling or renovating homes with lead-based paint.

To be sure that you're not dealing with lead -based paint you must have the paint tested by a qualified professional. Use a trained inspector to test your home. A trained inspector will test the surfaces of your home by using a portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine which measures the amount of lead in the paint or by sending paint samples to a laboratory equipped to measure lead in paint. The results of using chemical testing kits are not recommended. To find an inspector, contact your State agency or call 1-(888) LEADLIST to obtain a list of trained inspectors.

If you are removing paint or breaking through painted surfaces, you should be concerned about lead-based paint hazards. If your job involves removing paint, sanding, patching, scraping, or tearing down walls, you should be concerned about exposure to lead-based paint hazards. If you are doing other work, such as removing or replacing windows, baseboards, doors, plumbing fixtures, heating and ventilation duct work, or electrical systems, you should be concerned about lead-based paint hazards, since you may be breaking through painted surfaces to do these jobs.

If you are working on any painted surface, you should be concerned about lead-based paint hazards. You may find lead-based paint on any surface in your home including walls, interior trim, window sashes and frames, floors, radiators, doors, stairways, railings, porches, and exterior siding.

  • Useful Equipment and Where to Get it

Getting the right equipment and knowing how to use it are essential steps in protecting yourself during remodeling or renovating.

  • A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter equipped vacuum cleaner is a special type of vacuum cleaner that can remove very small particles from floors, window sills, and carpets and keeps them inside the vacuum cleaner. Regular household or shop vacuum cleaners are not completely effective in removing lead dust. They may blow the lead dust out through their exhausts and spread the dust throughout the home. HEPA vacuum cleaners are available through laboratory safety and supply catalogs and vendors. They can sometimes be rented at stores that carry remodeling tools.

  • You need to use a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certified respirator that is properly fitted and equipped with HEPA filters to remove lead dust particles out of the air you breathe. Make sure you buy specific HEPA filters - they are always purple. Dust filters and dust masks are not effective in preventing you from breathing in lead particles. Follow the directions that come with the respirator to make sure it fits. A respirator that does not fit right will not work. Respirators are available through laboratory safety and supply catalogs and vendors, and are sometimes carried by paint and hardware stores.

  • Protective clothes, such as coveralls, shoe covers, hats, goggles, face shields, and gloves should be used to help keep lead dust from being tracked into areas outside of the work site. These items are available through laboratory safety equipment supply catalogs and vendors. Inexpensive disposable suits can sometimes be purchased at paint stores.

  • Heavy-duty polyethylene plastic sheeting for covering areas exposed to lead dust can be purchased at hardware stores or lumber yards. The label should say that the plastic is made of polyethylene and is 6 mils thick.

  • Duct tape to hold the plastic in place, and completely seal the work areas, can be purchased at hardware stores and lumber yards.

  • Wet-sanding equipment, wet/dry abrasive paper, and wet-sanding sponges for "wet methods" can be purchased at hardware stores.

  • Spray bottles for wetting surfaces to keep dust from spreading can be purchased at general retail and garden supply stores.

  • Cleaning products to use include: either a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specially for lead to clean the dust from renovation or remodeling activities. All-purpose cleaners can be found in grocery stores. Lead-specific cleaning products can be purchased from some paint and hardware stores.

  • Buckets with wringers, debris containers, disposable heavy-duty plastic bags, rags, rakes, shovels, sponges, and string mops for ongoing, daily, and final cleaning can be purchased at hardware and retail stores.

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Figure 155: Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner. Standard household and shop vacuum cleaners are not effective at removing lead dust.

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