How Safe Are Your Wood-Carving Arts and Crafts?

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By LuzV Garcia, MS, ME

Traditionally, Puerto Rico celebrates Three Kings Day on January 6th. In Puerto Rico, the Three Kings or Three Wise Men are commonly depicted in wood carved sculptures by local artisans.

There is another difference in their portrayal in Puerto Rico. The artistic depictions of our Three Kings show them riding horses instead of camels. There are a variety of iconographic images where the Three Kings are riding to the left as if following the Bethlehem star. There are other images where the Kings are standing holding the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

While local artisans use local woods, bamboo, metals, and paints in their arts and crafts, there is a risk that some artists may still use lead-based paint in some of their crafts.

Wood painting is an art that has existed for centuries. In fact, Greeks first developed the technique of wood painting back in the Sixth century BC!

One of the environmental problems associated with wood carving is the use of chemicals or synthetic pigments such as white lead (basic lead carbonate), red and hydrated yellow ochre. We know that some colors such as black were generated from charcoal or carbon black pigment.

The original organic pigments were generated from plant components that were mixed with resin or natural oils such as Linseed oil to dissolve the solid particles in the pigment. It is important to know that the natural tints were derived from plants, minerals and invertebrates that were pulverized and dissolved into a liquid media. Originally, artisans used egg yolk as the media to transfer the pigments. The technique is called “Tempera.” It was a long lasting technique and the pigments were all natural ingredients. Beeswax was also used to seal the pigment to the wood.

Around the 19th Century, natural dyes were replaced with mineral pigments made of lead and chromium. These pigments enhanced the natural color of wood. Artisans now have the option of using organic or synthetic materials. Ask your wood artisan what type of paint he uses when making these wood carvings to ensure that no one is exposed to toxic metals like chromium or lead.

To learn more about the health risks of lead, visit.  While it’s important to keep traditions, it’s even more important to stay safe and healthy.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Winter Tips: A Healthy Home for the Holidays

By Lina Younes

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are trying to decorate our home to receive family and friends. Not only are we putting up holiday decorations to get into the spirit, but many of us are also trying to make some home redesigns or renovations in anticipation of the festivities. A simple way to give the home a new look is by painting. Just recently, we decided to paint some rooms at home.  I let my husband and daughter make the color selection and, boy, was I surprised! The newly painted rooms which were originally painted in light pastels now are fashioned in bright and bold colors. I confess that it took some getting used to, but I really like the new look.

If you live in a house or apartment that was built prior to 1978, there is a chance that the house has lead-based paint.  If the existing paint is not peeling or cracking, lead paint should not be a problem.  But if it is not in good condition and the paint is chipping or damaged, steps need to be taken to protect your family from lead hazards to prevent lead poisoning. If you decide to make the repairs or paint on your own, please visit this website to learn more about how you can make your home lead-safe.

Also, when dealing with household products like paint, paint strippers and other solvents, there may be some with volatile organic compounds which may cause allergic reactions, headaches and other health effects. So anytime you’re painting, make sure that you increase the ventilation and follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. In fact, all major hardware stores and home repair centers now sell low-VOC paints.  Consider them when purchasing paint to ensure a healthier indoor air quality in your home.

Furthermore, when making home improvements, consider energy efficient appliances with the Energy Star label to reduce your energy bills, improve the comfort in your home while protecting the environment. I’ll discuss this further in an upcoming blog.

Do you have any winter tips you would like to share with us? Looking forward to your input.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: Keeping our Kids Healthy Starts at Home

By Jess Portmess

My new nephew is still too young to pick up toys or explore the floors and walls of the house on all fours. But if his daily growth is any indication, it’s not that far off. I didn’t imagine my clerkship with EPA could make me think of him more often than I already do. Yet, he’s the face I see as I learn more about how to protect children from lead-based paint hazards. He is, after all, among those who are the most sensitive to the dangers from lead-based paint.

As a law clerk with EPA, I hope to gain a better understanding of how EPA makes concrete strides in solving big environmental problems. With hundreds of thousands of children affected by lead poisoning, I’d say the “big” shoe fits. The inspiring and motivating reality is, however, that lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. If you live in a home built before 1978, chances are it may have lead paint. That paint can wear over time, chipping away for a curious child’s hands or turning into dust that accumulates on the floor, window troughs, and other surfaces of your home. Renovations can disturb lead paint and spread more dust. But you can prevent these risks from affecting your family by regularly cleaning your home’s surfaces, maintaining painted surfaces, having your home inspected by a lead-safe certified professional, and renovating only with lead-safe certified contractors.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness about lead paint hazards, especially in the home. This week focuses on the many ways that parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects. To start, learn the facts about lead, or have your home tested. You could even ask your doctor to test your child for lead.

Preventing lead poisoning can be simple and the consequences of inaction are too terrible to ignore. Lead-contaminated dust can slow a child’s growth, inhibit his learning, and damage his brain or central nervous system. As a law student passionate about environmental law and natural resources, you learn a lot about uphill struggles where the stakes are high. For my nephew’s sake, I know I’ll keep climbing and I hope you do too.

For more information about National Lead Poisoning Prevention week visit

About the author: Jess Portmess is a law clerk in the National Program Chemicals Division of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be graduating from American University Washington College of Law in May 2013.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Girlfriends Talking: Lead Renovations in Older Homes

By Darlene Watford

A girlfriend of mine decided to have some additional work done this spring on her home. It’s a spacious, old home build in the 1950s with lots of charm and plenty of things that need to be updated and repaired. Last year, they updated the kitchen. This year, they plan to expand her twins’ bedrooms by combining them into one large room. She had heard something about the dangers of lead poisoning in older homes and the risks of renovating pre-1978 homes with lead paint. She asked, “What should I do to make sure the children are not harmed when the renovations are done?”

  • Should I search on the internet to learn more about EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, or
  • Should I look for a contractor, but make sure to ask them if they are EPA Lead-Safe Certified?

My answer to her was, “Do both.”

I told her that learning about lead-safe renovations is one of the many actions she can take to prevent exposing her children to harmful lead dust when the renovations are done in her home.

It is important to hire only contractors who have been trained and work for a lead-safe certified firm. Since April 2010, EPA requires contractors working on homes built before 1978 to be trained and firms to be lead-safe certified. Because other work was done on her home last year, I suggested that she follow EPA’s advice on lead-based paint to protect her family:

  1. Get Your Home Tested. Ask for a lead inspection since it was built before 1978.
  2. Get Your Child Tested. Ask your pediatrician to test young children for lead even if they seem healthy.
  3. Get the Facts. Read more information about steps you can take to prevent childhood lead poisoning.

Are you planning renovations on your older home? If so, just like my girlfriend, be sure to demand that your contractor be lead-safe certified.

About the author: Darlene Watford has worked to protect kids from lead paint poisoning for over 18 years in EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in the National Program Chemicals Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Verifying Test Kits That Help Get The Lead Out

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Julius Enriquez

How old is your house? If it’s older than 32, it probably contains some lead-based paint. This is a concern here in Cincinnati, where I live, since most of the houses here predate 1978.

EPA estimates there are 37.8 million housing units and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 still in use.
The ingestion of household dust containing lead from deteriorating paints is a common cause of lead poisoning in children. Lead may cause a range of health effects, such as behavioral problems and learning disabilities. High levels of exposure can even result in brain damage or death.

Simple and reliable tests and screening kits are needed.

EPA’s Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program, in collaboration with the Agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), recently completed testing four portable test kits designed for use by paint contractors. The ETV program verifies the performance of innovative technologies that have the potential to improve protection of human health and the environment.
Four new technologies, each designed to provide paint contractors with portable test kits, were tested using an ETV approved test/quality assurance protocol.

Researchers evaluated the test kits on wood, metal, drywall and plaster surfaces coated with known lead paint concentrations. Kits were also evaluated for cost, speed of results, and ease of use.

What was learned? Based on the ETV testing, OPPT recognized one of the four kits, and added it to a list of two others currently recognized by EPA. Contractors know that they can rely on kits on the lists for safe practices under the Agency’s Lead, Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, put in place in April to protect kids and adults from lead exposure resulting from home renovation projects.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. I’m happy to be contributing to projects that help me and my 3.7 million closest neighbors keep our kids lead free.

About the author: Julius Enriquez has been working for the EPA since 1999 and works with the Environmental Technology Verification Program (www.epa.gov/etv) of the National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio. Julius served as the work assignment manger for the ETV testing of the lead test kits.

Note: For more information regarding the recognized kits, please go to www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/testkit.htm.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

"Preventing Lead Poisoning"

Picture this: You live in a gorgeous older row home in Washington D. C. Although it’s a “fixer upper”, you bought it for its unmatched Victorian charm and its unbeatable location (Who doesn’t want to live next to a cupcake shop?). You finally decide it’s time to remodel the kid’s room and update the kitchen, but your spidey-sense is going off because you know that renovating a pre-1978 homes with lead paint can have risks. What’s the next step?

  • Do a search on the internet about EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule
  • Look for a contractor, but make sure to ask them if they are EPA Lead-Safe Certified
  • Check with your pediatrician about testing your children for lead

The answer is: All of the above — And don’t forget to share what you learn on your neighborhood list serve!

Learning about Lead-Safe renovations is one of the many actions you can take to prevent lead poisoning during Lead Poisoning Prevention Week this October 24-30, 2010.

This year for Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, consider taking concrete steps to make a difference (or tell a neighbor):

  1. Get Your Home Tested. Ask for a lead inspection if you live in home built before 1978.
  2. Get Your Child Tested. Ask your doctor to test your young children for lead even if they seem healthy.
  3. Get the Facts. Read more information about preventing childhood lead poisoning

Tell us, what are you doing to spread the word or learn more about Lead Poisoning Prevention.

About the author: Christina Wadlington joined EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in July 2008 and works in the National Program Chemicals Division.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Protecting Our Children From Exposure to Lead

By Lina Younes

During my youngest daughter’s yearly check up, the nurse asked the traditional lead screening questions regarding possible exposures to lead. “Does my child live in or regularly visit a home, child care or building built before 1950?” “Does my child live or regularly visit a home or child care built before 1978?” “Does my child spend time with anyone that has a job or hobby where they may work with lead?” and several more. Luckily, I was able to answer “no” to all the lead screening questions. However, the questions highlighted the fact that there are multiple possibilities of exposure in addition to lead-based paint.

Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the United States. Exposure to this toxic metal can harm young children and babies even before they are born. Exposure to high levels of lead can damage the developing brain and nervous system of young children, plus cause serious behavior and learning problems. For years, the main source of lead exposure has been lead-based paint or dust particles from lead-based paint. Although the federal government banned the use of lead in paint in 1978, many homes built before the ban may still have remnants of lead-based paint.

What are some of the other sources of lead? Well, pottery and ceramics made in other countries may have lead. Some folk remedies like greta and azarcón which may be used to treat stomach ailments may also have lead. Furthermore, we’ve also heard of other problems with lead in some imported toys and children’s jewelry.

So, what do you do if you think your child might have been exposed to this toxic metal? Does your child show behavioral problems or developmental problems? The first step to allay your concerns will be to have your child tested for possible lead poisoning. A simple blood test will indicate the course to follow.

During National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week help us to spread the word so we all can protect our children.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.