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An “Aha” Moment – Just a Little Too Late

2009 October 20

I’m a mom of four kids living in a house built in 1948 that was way too small for us until we expanded it three years ago. That’s around the time I became involved in outreach on lead poisoning prevention, and drafting outreach materials on EPA’s new rule requiring contractors who renovate pre-1978 housing and schools to be trained in lead-safe work practices and certified by EPA or a state (the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule).

We decided to stay in our house during construction – who has the money to rent a place and pay for the big renovation? Not us! At the time, I teased my contractor, Erik, about the upcoming requirements for renovators. He just laughed and lamented more money he’d have to pay the government. Then he put up big plywood sheets to block the rooms off and to keep dust out. But the plywood didn’t keep the dust out – it was everywhere. At the time, I thought, the new rule says to use plastic sheeting and tape off the rooms to keep dust out. But I didn’t say anything; all I was concerned about was how much longer we’d have to all live cramped in three rooms. I told myself, well, Jack is 10 and the triplets are 7, so their brains are pretty much already developed. But who knows how much exposure they have experienced because of the renovation. Recent studies show that renovation and repair activities are a major source of lead poisoning – from the dust!

Now that I’ve been steeped in the rule and working to get the word out to contractors to get lead-safe trained and certified, I realize that I should have insisted that my own contractor get himself educated about lead. It’s kind of an after-the-fact “aha moment” that leaves you with a real regret. The developmental effects of lead are real and they are irreversible – behavior problems, IQ deficiencies, learning deficits; scary stuff!

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 18-24, 2009. Take this opportunity to ask your plumber, electrician, repairman, or renovation contractor five words: Do you work lead-safe? If they stare back at you blankly, point them to our website. I recently found out that Erik is doing another renovation in the neighborhood. I’m going to work on him!

About the author: Sheila Canavan has more than 24 years of federal service, and has worked at EPA for 14 years. She coordinates web content and communications materials on OPPT’s efforts to address lead, mercury, PCBs and asbestos.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Johnny R. permalink
    October 20, 2009

    Sheila Canavan:

    “Recent studies show that renovation and repair activities are a major source of lead poisoning — from the dust!”

    Please explain how much dust is generated by renovation and repair activities and how lead gets into that dust.

    I notice you didn’t advocate the use of alternative building materials. Why?

  2. Jackenson Durand permalink
    October 20, 2009

    I can see that the EPA is the “Green University” that everyone should come to study for their life wellbeing.
    We find similar history in almost every human act factor.
    I have been trying to teach people this same philosophy in the past. In the past, even my superior hierarchic to make the difference between:” Quantity and Quality”, “Efficacy and Efficiency”.

  3. audrey gaines permalink
    October 20, 2009

    I’m just as concerned with the waste that is generated. How is it that it is toxic in a defective state on surfaces in the house but if you take it down, you can dispose of it as though it is not longer toxic.

  4. armansyahardanis permalink
    October 20, 2009

    Thank you to read of your experience. And understand. In my country, people don’t know about your “dust” problem. They are seriously to eat and to drink some food beside the road.

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    October 21, 2009

    Its critical for contractors to work lead safe when doing major remodeling or repair work. Fortunately, the lead paint is gone and lead free paint is the only kind you can get at the stores now. But older homes and buildings may still have old lead paintin them. Older buildings may also have lead pipes and/or insulation. The new PVC pipes don’t use lead nor do copper pipes. But with copper pipes you do get some possibility of contamination by the copper. New building materials are needed that are safer to work with and live with. It would be good if the materials also came with an index on them or on the packaging to list the content and percent of natural resources used and recyclables used in product manufacturing, how much water was used in the manufacturing process of the product, and was child or swet shop labor used to make the product. This would give progressive consumers and contractors away of choosing the most environmentally friendly products on the market and would prompt manufacturers to become alot more environmentally sensitive as well. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

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