The Basics of Lead Exposure

All contractors know that the EPA’s regulations against lead and lead-based paint are in place for a reason, but their knowledge ends beyond the general understanding that lead causes health problems. It’s likely that some members of the crew simply adhere to the rule because they are told to. But being able to educate clients and fellow crew members on the dangers of lead is part of the job.

To make those explanations a bit easier, here is an overview of lead and lead exposure in older homes. Use this as a quick reference guide to better understand the implications of improper handling techniques and understand why the EPA’s RRP rule enforcement is so stringent.

What is Lead?

Lead is a relatively common and naturally occurring mineral found in soil, water, and rocks. While it is natural, the mineral is also toxic to animals and humans in low doses, making it a significant health hazard both inside and outside the home. The mineral was widely used for a wide variety of purposes, such as:

  • Plumbing

  • Paint

  • Ammunition manufacturing

  • And even cosmetics

While the cosmetics industry has long since discontinued the use of lead, renovation crews are still finding sources of lead in older homes. Renovation projects that involve replacing pipes, stripping paint, or even removing old windows can all expose the crew and the occupants to lead contamination. When working on these projects, proper and safe lead handling techniques must be used to reduce the risk of lead poisoning for both crew members and the building’s residents.

Defining Older Homes

For the EPA’s purposes, an older home is any structure built before 1978. In 1978, the federal government recognized the potentially harmful effects of lead and banned the use of lead-based paint in homes. While this new regulation ensured that crews building or renovating homes after 1978 would not be able to use lead-based paint anywhere on the property, it does little to mitigate the risk found in homes built before that time.

The latest estimates indicate that lead paint is still a hazard in millions of homes across the United States and many homeowners may not be aware of its presence. Over the course of routine interior decoration, previous occupants may have painted over the older lead-based paint, effectively hiding and sealing it away. When these top layers are in good condition, the risk from lead is relatively small. However, if the paint starts peeling or degrades, the risk increases.

How Lead-Based Paint Causes Problems

The individuals most at risk for health problems are small children. This is because as the lead-based paint chips and peels, children may start playing with the chips, accidentally or intentionally ingest them, or breathe in dust particles containing the heavy metal. Even in homes where the paint is not degrading, children are exposed when they chew a particular window sill or edge of a door. After all, children are inquisitive, and part of their understanding of the world seems to derive from what they can and cannot stick in their mouths.

Health Problems and Symptoms Associated with Lead Poisoning

Despite the fact that lead-based paint is no longer used in buildings, an estimated 500,000 children currently suffer from lead poisoning, and many more have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams. While adults can suffer from lead poisoning, children are far more susceptible.

It does take some time for the effects of lead poisoning to manifest, but the most common symptoms in young children are:

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Seizures

  • Cognitive impairments

  • Learning delays

  • Kidney problems

  • Anemia

If a child is exposed to lead through paint chips or dust, the sooner they seek treatment, the better. Educating parents on these particular risks will help them better identify any questionable conditions and encourage them to head to the doctor at the first sign of illness.

Keep in mind that adults are at risk for lead poisoning as well, though much of their risk is associated with lead-based paint that has degraded into a fine dust. Anywhere a painted surface sees a lot of wear and tear, like frequently used doors and windows, there is a risk for lead dust. If these particles go airborne, the individual may suffer from high blood pressure, memory problems, fatigue compounded by insomnia, and headaches.

The Role of the Contractor

Currently, the EPA requires that all firms, regardless of their size, get certified in proper lead handling procedures. This allows them to safely renovate homes containing lead-based paint without running the risk of spreading the contaminated materials or falling ill due to lead poisoning themselves.

What Certified Contractors Must Do

Before starting work on any renovation project in homes built before 1978, the contractor must provide the building owner and occupants with the EPA’s pamphlet, educating them about the risks of lead poisoning. The renovation area must then be tested for lead using an EPA-approved kit. For areas where lead is present, proper containment procedures must be followed. The area should be sealed off from non-contaminated areas, reducing the risk of airborne particles traveling throughout the home.

A certified professional must be on-site and ready to supervise the renovation crew to ensure that proper procedure is followed. Once the renovations are complete, the area must be cleaned and inspected by a risk assessor who will once again test the area for lead. If the inspector finds any lead, the area must be cleaned until there is no risk of contamination.

Certification is Not as Difficult as it Sounds

Certification is required for all firms, and ZOTA Professional can help locate the right local certification program for the business’s needs. Whether a contractor is getting certified for the first time, continuing their education with updated training, or wants a crew member to become a certified lead risk assessor, there’s a local course perfect for their needs. Don’t be intimidated by the EPA’s new increased enforcement of the RRP regulations. Be prepared and get the firm certified in proper lead handling procedures.