14 Ways to Minimize Lead Paint Exposure and Avoid Paint Poisoning in Older Homes
Lead paint is dangerous, especially for small children, who might eat crumbling paint chips or pick up lead dust on their hands, which they might stick in their mouth. Each year, thousands of children test positive for dangerous levels of lead. Lead in children—even small amounts—can cause behavioral issues, a lower IQ, ADD and physical problems. Homes built before 1978 are likely to contain at least some lead paint. If your home is that vintage, it’s important to reduce the risk of exposure to you and your family when doing paint prep, repairs or home renovation.
Test for Lead
Seal Off Your Work Area
Remove all furniture and rugs in the room you’re about to work in and cover floors with 6-mil polyethylene (poly) sheeting. Use duct tape to secure it to the floor tight to walls and at least 5 ft. beyond the room you’re working in. Avoid taping it to baseboards or other trim if you’re worried about damaging the paint. Turn off the furnace and then cover supply and return registers with poly and tape. Keep windows closed to prevent dust and chips from blowing around, and cover and tape off doors and other openings to keep dust contained to your work area.
Wear a Tyvek suit or a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, neoprene gloves and washable shoes. Wash work clothes in a load separate from other laundry. Also wear safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from debris, and a half-mask respirator with P100 filtration to protect your lungs.
If you must sand or scrape lead paint, do it wet. Spraying the area with water before sanding or scraping minimizes dust. Make sure electrical outlets are turned off before spraying near them. Use a mediumor coarse-grit sanding sponge to smooth rough areas. Avoid using an electric sander to smooth or remove lead paint. The goal is not to remove all of the paint; you just want to remove any loose, flaking paint.
Vacuum the Chips
The most important part of making a room lead-safe is the cleanup. If it’s not done properly, lead dust can get left behind—enough to harm a young child. Start by sucking up paint chips with a HEPA vacuum approved for lead paint pickup ($350 to $800). Some aftermarket vacuum filters are labeled as HEPA, but they’re not approved for lead paint.
If You Must Strip…
Give It a Wipe
Spray all-purpose cleaner mixed with water onto a folded paper towel and wipe in only one direction to avoid recontaminating previously cleaned areas. Use a fresh side of the towel for each wipe. You can also do this with a cloth rag by dunking it in cleaner, wiping the area, and rinsing it out in a separate bucket filled with clean water. Just be sure to change the rinse water often.
Bag the Residue
Before doing any repainting, finish cleaning the room and remove all poly sheeting. Seal it in a heavy plastic garbage bag and dispose of it with your regular trash (if allowed). Finally, clean uncarpeted floors with a HEPA vacuum and wash them with all-purpose cleaner.
What is the RRP Rule?
The EPA’s ‘Renovation, Repair and Painting’ (RRP) rule mandates that these people or companies follow specific work practices to keep children and families safe from lead paint exposure during work or face fines of thousands of dollars for failing to comply.
To get certified, they must complete an eight-hour lead paint training course that covers topics like dust-containment and cleanup and disposal procedures. The RRP Rule does not apply to homeowners working on their own homes. For more information about the RRP Rule, visit epa.gov/lead.
Got Old Plumbing? You Might Have Lead
If your home was built before 1986, you might have lead in your tap water. Many houses built through the early 1900s have lead service lines and pipes, and homes built through the late 1980s have copper pipes and fittings joined with lead-based solder. Brass faucets and fittings contain lead, too. When water that’s acidic or low in mineral content sits in older plumbing systems for several hours, lead can leach into the water. However, even if you have lead in your plumbing system, your water might be safe to drink. That’s because, over time, minerals in water coat the insides of pipes, helping to prevent leaching of lead.
Test Your Water
First, test your water for lead. Some water suppliers will test your water for free. If yours won’t, or you’re on a private well, you can buy a test kit at your local home center. Expect to spend about $10 for the kit, plus $30 more for lab analysis.
Call Your Water Supplier
If a water test shows unsafe levels of lead, you need to figure out why. Call your municipal water supplier and ask whether the water service pipe at the street has lead in it, and whether your water is corrosive enough to be causing lead to leach from pipes and fittings inside your house.
Get the Lead Out!
If you have unsafe lead levels in your drinking water and your supplier can’t help you, you’ll have to take action yourself. That might mean replacing some lead plumbing components or installing a home water filtration system approved for lead. As a temporary measure—until you can eliminate the source of the lead—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends turning on faucets for several minutes to flush out water that’s been sitting in your pipes for more than six hours. For more information, go to cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.