Heritage Restoration, Inc.

When Painting Gets a Little Too Close

Pure White Lead was added to paint for great durability

Our neighbor has started sanding his 1875 house, I assume in preparation to do more exterior painting. I see people with hand sanders on ladders and I don’t see any machinery that indicates there is a collection of paint chips and dust from the sanding. I’m concerned about the lead this may be putting into the air next to our home where we have a young child.  They are starting with the front and side of the house, but when they get to the back of the house in particular there will definitely be debris very close to us. 

Maybe I am missing something about the way they are doing this and they are taking precautions, but are there any city regulations around using proper equipment that you know of? 

So based on what you are saying, they are not talking the proper precautions and potentially breaking the law. The law is pretty clear when it comes to protecting the ground 20’ out from chips and not having ANY fugitive dust (wet scraping, and wet sanding or using HEPA vacs on sanders). They are required to notify neighbors and have them sign a booklet called Renovate Right. The city requires a permit for painting. The Department of Health and EPA would basically shut it down and potentially fine him.

That being said, you could go next door and remind the workers of their obligations, showing the booklet, giving them a chance to immediately remedy the situation. They need to know since they are only getting closer to your house…

Even when stripped, wood contains residual lead

We called DEM on Friday to report and also spoke to the owner by phone. He said the house was stripped 15 or 25 years ago and so the paint is all latex, but hard to know if that’s true. He did say he would remind the workers to use a HEPA vac, and I noticed today they did put down plastic on the ground… I will read the booklet as a next step and see if they’ve made any other changes. They definitely didn’t notify us and I doubt they got a permit. 

I would always air on the side of caution. Technically the paint should be tested for lead to prove it isn’t lead. But the original wood will still have lead in it so they must contain any dust generated from sanding. For neighbors, the Lead Laws are meant to prevent contamination within about 20-50 feet depending on the wind from finer dust since it typically travels more than chips(chip control typically happens within the 10-15 feet from the house being worked on). So I would say if they are making a reasonable attempt to contain the dust by using tarps and vacuums, then it is up to you to protect yourself. Here is what I would do:

  • Within 20 feet or so, keep your windows closed and everything outside covered or removed during the prep phase, like toys, bikes, furniture, etc.
  • Once they are done, use a HEPA vac to clean “inside” parts, like your window wells or other flat surfaces that may have dust. Use a Swiffer wet pad to clean up any residual dust. 
  • Anything exterior, such as on the brick, roof, gutters, walls, storms; should wash off with rain or you can hose them off. Typically the soil in a city has had many centuries off nasty dust, so one more minuscule layer should not make a difference, BUT if you are concerned about any soil in you yard, have it tested prior to and after the work is completed or cap it with mulch. You should never use the soil against your house for play or growing food.

Hope this helps.