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Although lead as a paint additive was banned nearly 30 years ago, many homes and constructions still exist that were built long before regulations went into effect. That means lead based paint is present in many schools, places of worship, government buildings, correctional facilities and more.
The problem with lead paint in buildings is that it can flake off and contaminate the surrounding air, water and even everyday objects used by both adults and children who use the space.
When it comes to lead, health professionals have a zero-tolerance policy: there is no safe level of lead that can be inhaled or ingested. And for good reason; lead has been directly attributed as the cause of myriad health problems, ranging from relatively moderate risks like headaches and anemia, to more serious threats like learning and developmental disabilities, brain swelling and even death.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a number of lead regulations to safeguard us against this toxic metal. One such regulation includes inspecting buildings that were built prior to 1978 for the presence of lead before any construction or renovation can take place.
So if you’re considering a renovation project or if you’re planning to tear down a structure to replace it with a new one, you’ll need to have the building inspected for lead first. And if it is found, you’ll need to take the proper steps so that it can be removed safely.
When it comes to lead, there is more to be concerned about than its mere presence. In fact, an intact wall covered with lead paint is far less of a threat than one that is improperly removed. Doing so much as tapping a nail into the wall can release lead dust into the air where it can be inhaled, or eventually settle to contaminate other objects, food or water.
That’s why the methods used to remove lead paint are crucial. And why some ways of removing it can be more harmful and actually increase risk of lead exposure.
Understanding the risks and subsequently the training and certifications necessary to mitigate them so that you can hire the right professionals is an important part of the process.
There are a number of ways to reduce or eliminate lead exposure; however, simply painting over an affected area is not enough. That may be a temporary stopgap but if paint chips, peels or is damaged, your facility is once again at risk.
‘Enclosure’ is the practice of containing an affected area by covering it with drywall, vinyl or another fire resistant material. While this can safely eliminate exposure in the short term, there is always the risk that the enclosure will be damaged or even require removal during a renovation, once again opening up your facility to risk of contamination.
‘Encapsulation’ involves coating the affected area with a special liquid that provides a long lasting and effective barrier against lead paint. Again, the problem arises during a renovation when the area becomes damaged or must be removed.
During a minor renovation you may consider replacing affected elements, especially if they are self-contained, such as doors or windows.
However, lead issues typically affect wider areas. That means removal is often the most viable option.
When removing lead paint or even elements affected by lead paint such as walls or other structural elements, there are several approved methods for doing so.
First, care should be taken not to stir up dust or fumes, which can result from knocking down walls, chipping paint off surfaces or sanding.
To accomplish this, the work area should be sealed off from its surroundings, including sealing heating or ventilation ducts, so that the lead cannot travel to contaminate other areas. Only one area should be worked on at a time to ensure appropriate sealing.
Properly trained lead inspectors and abatement professionals will understand the materials needed to enclose an area, the types of protective clothing that should be worn, appropriate respirators to use and will follow other safety controls such as avoiding eating, drinking or smoking in the work areas.
In addition, special care must be taken to avoid water seepage when removing lead paint. Some acceptable removal practices, including wire brushing or wet sanding, require the use of water to prevent dust and fumes. As a result, the water used in the process becomes contaminated and can run off into ground water or seep into other surfaces if it isn’t properly contained and removed.
When techniques such as wet sanding are used, HEPA filters and respirators are required.
Heat stripping is an acceptable technique that uses a low temperature (below 1100 degrees F) heat gun, followed by hand scraping. However, this can also generate lead dust and must be used with proper precautions.
Finally, lead-contaminated materials must be removed and disposed of properly so that they cannot be the source of further contamination.
Several techniques may remove lead paint but they are not approved for use and can result in more dangerous contamination than if the paint had not been disturbed.
These include open flame burning or torching, machine sanding without a HEPA attachment, sand blasting, paint chipping and power washing without the appropriate measures in place to trap water.
When it comes to proper disposal, waste water should never be dumped in the local area and bags containing contaminated materials should never be placed in regular dumpsters or trash.
Lead paint can pose health risks but lead paint that is improperly removed and disposed of can pose even greater risks. That’s why it’s imperative to find the right professionals and to understand the acceptable practices that will lead to its safe detection and removal.
Lead abatement is designed to permanently eliminate the hazards of lead in a particular space and requires specialized techniques and skills that general contractors typically don’t have. That means you will need an abatement and remediation professional to do the job properly.
The EPA requires training and certifications for professionals, which includes training in how to properly inspect for lead, how to remove it safely so that it does not contaminate the surroundings and how to properly dispose of toxic materials afterwards.
It specifically requires the person doing the inspection to be licensed as a lead inspector or risk assessor. In addition, both the company and the individual must be licensed.
The inspector certification is required for professionals who conduct investigations in facilities regulated under the EPA and HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), including housing, child occupied facilities, commercial and industrial facilities.
Inspectors are trained in sample collection and reporting, including use of x-ray fluorescence (XRF), atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and other material sampling. Certification requires both a written exam and practical exercises to demonstrate the professional’s ability.
If you have questions about lead remediation in your building or facility, contact us and we’ll be glad to speak with you.
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