Lead-based paint has been banned for residential use since 1978, but studies conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) indicate that almost 38 million housing units still contain some lead-based paint dating back before the ban. The EPA created the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP) and the Lead-Safe Certified Firm program to help minimize homeowner exposure to lead-based paint dust during home repair and improvement projects. Contractors who perform renovation, repair, or painting work that may disturb the paint of pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities (day care centers, schools, after-school facilities, etc.) must distribute information pamphlets regarding the dangers of lead exposure, and work performed on these properties must be conducted by a Lead-Safe Certified Firm.

Before the Work Begins

Prior to any renovation or repair work, the homeowner should take a number of precautions to lower the chances of lead dust exposure. First and foremost, the homeowner should check that the contractor intended for the project is an EPA Lead-Safe Certified Firm. Second, the homeowner should plan for the room or rooms that are to be worked on to be out of commission until the project is complete. In other words, the work areas should be absolutely avoided by occupants of the house. Follow the steps below before any renovation or repair work begins:

  • Turn off forced-air heating and air conditioning systems.
  • Move furniture and personal items away from the work site.
  • Cover with heavy-duty plastic sheeting any furniture or cabinets that can’t be moved.
  • Keep pets away from the work site; they can also be harmed by lead dust exposure.
  • If possible, create a separate route for workers to enter and exit the home away from the one your family will use.

What to Expect

Lead-safe contractors are trained and certified by the EPA for lead dust abatement and are expected to follow certain procedures to contain, minimize, and remove lead dust.

A certified contractor should:

  1. Contain the work area.
    • Cordon off the work area with heavy-duty plastic and tape as appropriate.
    • Put up warning signs to remind occupants not to enter the area.
    • Seal off doors and heating and cooling system vents in the area.
    • Completely cover the floors and any furniture that can’t be moved.
  2. Minimize dust.

    There is no way to completely eliminate dust, but there are methods that produce less dust than others by:

    • Misting areas with water before sanding and scraping.
    • Scoring paint before separating components like crown molding or window framing.
    • Pulling apart components instead of breaking them.

    Some methods are known to generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust, and these should be avoided. The contractor should not use open-flame burning or a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100 degrees, nor should she or he use sanding, grinding, or planing power tools unless they are equipped with a shroud and HEPA vacuum attachment.

  3. Clean up thoroughly.

    The work area should be cleaned daily. After all the work is complete, the entire area should be cleaned using lead abatement procedures BEFORE the plastic that isolates the work site is taken down. A certified contractor should:

    • Use a HEPA vacuum to clean up all dust on surfaces.
    • Wet mop floors using lots of rinse water.
    • Check all surfaces for dust or paint chips; if any are found, the area must be cleaned again.

Renovation can be an exciting project, and taking the proper safety precautions and securing professionals who can properly perform lead abatement tactics can ensure that your newly refurbished space will bring only joy to your family and not put them in harm’s way.

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Sources: EPA; US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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