Renovate Right: Lead-Based Paint Is Still a Problem

By Crystal McIntyre

“Is lead paint still around?” “I thought they got rid of all the lead.” I’ve heard these surprising responses more than once during my interactions with EPA’s regulated community through the years. Sadly, those misconceptions are very far from the truth.

More than 30 million homes in the U.S. still contain lead-based paint. They were built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned for residential use. So it’s still a big problem and will continue to be until this paint is removed from every home, day care center, school, and any other structure where adults and children spend long periods of time.

This may seem like a nearly impossible task because lead paint removal requires much money and expertise. However, not all hope is lost. In addition to the many projects designed to remove lead paint from homes, with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, EPA has implemented regulations that require anyone getting paid to work on any privately-owned, pre-1978 properties must be properly trained and certified to do the work.

EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule became fully effective in April 2010. Over the past five years, it’s been a challenge to help the regulated community and some in the general public understand why this rule is so important. The RRP rule requires the use of lead-safe work practices, such as laying down plastic, posting warning signs, and cleaning properly after the demolition phase of the work is complete.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, I’ve seen many instances where the lead dust created from renovation work is spread across a room, floor, or an entire house. This could have been minimized or prevented by using the appropriate type of plastic and/or closing off the work area so the dust was contained.

Since the RRP rule was implemented in 2010, we’ve had a chance to see many companies and individuals renovating the interiors and exteriors of houses, schools, apartment buildings, and hotels, among other residential areas. Unfortunately, the work is almost always done incorrectly. Shown below are examples of what we’ve seen at many work sites, versus what we should be seeing.

Below are some photos taken at EPA lead inspections, showing how those sites can appear after lead-based paint is scraped or disturbed in some way and lead-safe work practices are not used.

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When I look at these photos, I’m horrified to know that families with young children possibly lived there, and were not notified of the possible hazards nor kept out of the work area where workers likely tracked the lead-based paint dust and debris throughout the house and yard.

In order to raise the blood-lead level of a small child, it only takes the equivalent of a grain of sugar to enter their bloodstream. This can happen through inhalation – not just by ingestion, which is a common misconception. The paint chips and dust seen here are much larger than a sugar grain, so imagine the danger here.

As I mentioned, the proper use of appropriate work practices can minimize the exposure to lead-based paint. Below are more photos from EPA inspections, showing sites where attempts were made to safely conduct the work. The RRP rule requires renovators to take a course that walks them through the steps to contain a work area, post warning signs, and clean properly. You can see that the residents’ furniture was covered, HEPA vacuums were used for cleaning, and work areas were separated.

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By following the RRP rule and using lead-safe work practices, we can help ensure that the health of our families is protected in the Heartland and across the nation. Please check out the links below to learn more.

Helpful EPA Links:

About the Author: Crystal McIntyre is an Environmental Protection Specialist who has worked for EPA for 17 years. She’s currently the Regional Lead Coordinator for the Lead-Based Paint Program. Crystal studied broadcast journalism at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.

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