An “Aha” Moment – Just a Little Too Late

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.

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