Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Lead Laws and Safety

Lead poisoning is a concern for good reason. A small amount of pure lead dust can create substantial health risks. For example, if you take the same quantity of lead as a 1-gram packet of sugar, it can over 100 rooms at 100 square feet each with levels of 100 µg/ft2, an amount that is more than twice the federal standard for a hazardous level of lead on floors. Lead was used on all painted homes and buildings prior to 1978, and the deterioration of the surfaces and finishes caused lead paint to chip, peel, flake, and chalk and become airborne, sickening children and adults alike.

HistoryRoman gluttony

The versatility, cheapness, and ease of manufacturing made lead extremely valuable and useful for thousands of years. During the Roman Empire, lead was used throughout society, where everyday items contained the metal to sicken both rich and poor alike. Even then, scientists and doctors were aware that mining, manufacturing, and consumption had adverse health risks. The US did not heavily regulate action on lead manufacturing, use, and consumption until the last 40 years. These regulations have confused and scared contractors and the public, causing many to outwardly disregard the rules.

The Romans used lead in everyday applications including make-up, paint pigments, sweet and sour condiments, wine preservatives, pewter cups, plates, pitchers, pots and pans, currency, and the plumbing for water supplies. They knew lead caused serious health problem including madness and death, but the metal’s versatility, low cost, and the misconceptions of exposure limits outweighed the health risks, preventing an outward ban.

America’s lead mining and manufacturing began as early as 1621 in Virginia. The metal’s low melting point and corrosion resistance made it extremely valuable and useful for building and manufacturing. For 350 years, America was the leading manufacturer and consumer of pro

Lead Mining

cessed lead, and by 1980 lead usage per person was 10 times that of the Romans.

Two of the biggest 20th century uses of refined lead were in gasoline and paint. Lead increased engine power and performance, yet the byproduct was an airborne lead particle scattered throughout the landscape. Lead paint, on the other hand, provided vivid and strong pigments, where a small amount would cover a large area. White lead is very insoluble in water, making the paint finish highly water-resistant, durable, flexible

, washable, crack resistant for a longer period than traditional paints. There has always been considerable science behind the known detrimental health effects of lead, but it wasn’t until the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970’s that resulted a significant reduction lead manufacturing and use.

Paint and Window FailureFederal & Rhode Island Lead Regulation

Rhode Island was perfectly suited for the high use of lead paint. Radical temperature changes, extreme wet and dry cycles, salty air, boats, bridges, and a lot of manufacturing made lead cheap and readily available for the harsh conditions lead was perfect for. With hundreds of years of applying lead paint to buildings, especially on the movable parts like windows and doors, you have a perfect storm for lead paint failure and subsequent exposure to occupants.

Rhode Island has been the in forefront of lead paint awareness, exposure, and regulation.

Rhode Island Housing, The Department of Health, The Department of Environmental Management, and cities and towns, have collaborated to develop a comprehensive, systematic approach to lead paint safety. One program in particular, the Healthy Homes and Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, is a statewide effort to eliminate lead poisoning, reduce lead exposure, develop and implement healthy housing practices, and to create a better, safer living conditions.

The National Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 and the Toxic Substances Control Act strengthened the EPA’s regulation of lead-based paint hazards. Rhode Island’s Lead Hazard Mitigation Law took effect in November 2005, with the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program (RRP) becoming fully effective in 2010. The RRP regulations were developed for contractors, buildings used by children, and multi-family building owners to follow lead safe work procedures and maintain a lead safe environment to control the spread of lead dust.

This summary will not prepare you to work with lead, but the courses, seminars, and licenses are designed to make users properly trained to disturb lead paint surfaces. The regulations are as follows:

The Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program (RRP) Rule requires those disturbing lead paint in homes or child-occupied facilities built prior to 1978 become trained and certified in lead-safe work practices. While some consider this a burden, it is designed to protect occupants against lead contamination, which can happen very easily.

Lead Abatement (Removal) Program requires those engaged in lead removal, risk assessments and inspections in homes or child-occupied facilities built prior to 1978 be trained and certified.

Residential Lead- Based Paint Disclosure Program requires potential buyers and renters of housing built prior to 1978 receive specific information about a building’s lead and lead hazards before buying or renting, and allows an independent lead inspection for buyers.

Residential Hazard Standards for Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil sets standards for dangerous levels of lead in paint, household dust, and residential soil, where lead content exceeds certain defined micrograms of lead in dust per square foot different surfaces.

Lead is inert when encapsulated, except when it is disturbed. Any painted surface containing lead where there is friction or impact, or there the finish is chipping, peeling, chalking, flaking, or generally failing, can become a health hazard. The failing finish can become ingested or airborne through scraping, sanding, or just blowing around, especially a child moving around and inadvertently ingesting the lead. The side effects of lead poisoning with children are especially damaging, while adults can feel the side effects and become sick.

“Lead Smart”Lead Safe DH Window Weatherstripping

Our country and Rhode Island have become acutely aware of lead hazards and are enacting and enforcing strong regulations. Certain buildings must be lead safe or lead free. Contact the Rhode Island Department of Health to find out what your requirements are. While the rules are seen as burdensome, they are designed to protect building users. Single family or owner-occupied two- and three-family homes and properties with current Certifications of Lead-Safe or Lead-Free Status from the Department of Health are exempt from these regulations, unless a hazard has been identified. So that leaves many houses where lead can remain, so I like to recommend becoming “lead smart”.

Lead smart is not a technical or regulatory term, it is a common sense approach to the care and maintenance of lead paint. The goal of being lead smart is to reduce chipping, peeling, chalking, flaking, or generally a failing finish by repainting and/or periodic cleaning. When painting, be aware of the dust you are creating. You can easily poison a room by being sloppy. If you want to know how to do it right, take an RRP course. It doesn’t mean you have to follow the law when you building is exempt, but you should know how to work smarter and safely.

If you cannot afford to paint, clean it up right. Sweeping, wind, movement, walking, touching, and crawling can move paint that has fallen off its surface. It is just a matter of time before it grinds down and becomes airborne and ingested. But cleaning as often as you need to can and will reduce the amount of airborne and ingested lead. A HEPA vacuum mixed with good wet cleaning practices, like a Swiffer, can quickly remove hazards. Surf the web for a variety of best cleaning practices.

If you are moving into a home or building, do a comprehensive cleaning BEFORE you move in. Clean the radiators, closets, window wells, floors, tops of doors and window trim, as well as the floors and rugs. Not a quick clean, but a deep, deep clean. Then regular cleaning methods can help maintain a building and reduce exposure.

Old houses are not the enemy. Old windows, doors and floors can be properly maintained to be lead smart, and even be certified lead safe. Don’t throw away building parts that have functioned for hundreds of years out of fear because there are lead safe solutions. Like the invention of the catalytic converter allowed unleaded gasoline, there are solutions for old windows as well. Eliminating friction and failure is not impossible, just not as easy as tearing it out and replacing it with a window that will not last more than 20 years. Let’s respect our rich cultural history and built environment by continuing to develop solutions to safely maintain these our great architectural treasures.