Reducing Lead Hazards from Paint and Soil

Author: Pacific Northwest Inspections Group, LLC   Date: 25-Nov-2013.   Category: Lead Paint   Add to Favorites 

If you find that you have lead hazards in your home or office, reducing lead hazards will probably mean taking care of some deferred maintenance and making sure that painted surfaces are always in good condition. It may not be possible to do everything right away, but there are some things that can be done now to keep children's exposure to a minimum. Additionally, if you own a house or apartment building built before 1978 in Seattle,WA area our inspectors can provide instant onsite Lead paint and risk assessments.

If you decide to hire a contractor to do lead hazard reduction work or painting it is required that you use a contractor that has been trained in lead safe work practices. More importantly you need to be pro-active in monitoring their work. Federal law now requires workers who disturb pre-1978 painted surfaces to be trained in lead safety and firms to be EPA certified. You can find a list of EPA Lead Certified Renovator firms in your area and more information on the EPA website at

Paint: Interim Controls are used to safely keep lead in place, usually by carefully preparing and then painting over existing lead based paint. Even though the lead is still in place, it is no longer as hazardous if people are not exposed to the chips and dust. Most of the work involved is repainting and window and door repair. Some examples are repairing doors so they do not rub the jamb, or lubricating windows to minimize friction against the painted parts of the window system. If you are doing this work yourself we recommend taking a training in lead-safe work practices before beginning the work.

Soil: Contaminated soil is also hazardous if it is exposed, especially if it is in a play area. However, if you cover it with landscaping, gravel or mulch, you can prevent people from being exposed to lead even though you leave it where it is. This can be accomplished by planting sod in lawn areas, and placing ground cover or mulch in bed areas. Shrubs can be used as a barrier; for example, a row of black berry bushes along the house tends to keep kids from playing in the high risk area next to the house. A fence can do the same thing. It is a good idea to create a safe play area to give kids an alternative place to play, away from contaminated lead soil. Educate your children of the dangers of lead contaminated soil. Whenever loose material like sand, gravel or wood chips is put down over contaminated soil in a traffic or play area, a weed-block fabric should be placed under it and at least six inches of the covering material placed. Watering and maintenance is also crucial to keeping your garden lead safe. If you have an area that is being used as a play area or garden call our office to have one of our State Certified inspectors take soil samples.

Paint Removal: When most people think about abatement, they think of lead paint removal. Paint can be removed by hand scraping aided by chemical strippers or a heat gun to soften the paint. You can also remove it by using one of an array of power tools if you attach them to a HEPA Vacuum to catch the dust that would otherwise be spread around. There are two major disadvantages to paint removal. The first is that it is difficult to remove lead paint from wood or plaster. After all, paint is designed to stay on, not come off. The second disadvantage is the potential for contaminating your house and poisoning yourself is now a greater risk. It is the dust that creates the highest LBP hazard. Lead that is relatively harmless when intact to the wall. The form of paint becomes more hazardous when removed from the surface, broken down into little pieces (dust and chips), and is scattered or blown around.

Replacement:  It is often easier to remove and replace the whole component than trying to strip the lead paint off. This is an especially good idea if the component is in poor condition and needs replacement anyway. A good example might be wood windows. In addition to permanently removing the lead, you may replace a worn out window with a new one that is more energy efficient and attractive, as well as easier to open. Another example of replacement is rebuilding an old exterior stairway. If it is in need of repair anyway, replacing it will improve the building both by removing the lead and by providing a structurally sound and safe stairway.

Enclosure: Enclosure means covering the painted surface with a solid permanent barrier like sheet rock, paneling, new siding or some other type of building material. An example of this is covering a painted floor with underlayment and vinyl floor covering. Once again, you can achieve two results with one action. You end up with a better floor surface and eliminate the lead hazards. Another good use of an enclosure would be covering a cracked plaster ceiling with sheet rock. Please note, wall paper is not considered an enclosure.

Encapsulation:  Encapsulation is the use of a special type of coating that bonds with the existing paint to form a barrier that lasts longer than ordinary paint. Encapsulants are usually more expensive than paint and may be a little more difficult to apply. Because of their thickness, they may either cover surface imperfections or fill in architectural detail. Some encapsulants have an anti-ingestant that makes them taste bitter to most children to reduce the likelihood of the children chewing on the paint, but why take the risk.

Soil abatement:  You can permanently abate soil by removing the top 4 to 6 inches of lead contaminated soil and then replacing it with clean topsoil. If you do this, make sure the new soil is also lead safe, testing no more than 200 ppm for lead. Another option is to permanently pave the area with concrete or asphalt. Also make sure you do not create a drainage issue for your building foundation by building these areas up with additional soil, pavement or other products.

Work Methods: When you are working safely with lead, it is not just what you do, but how you do it. Some of the standard methods of paint preparation are hazardous when there is lead in the paint you are working on. Most importantly have it tested using an XRF gun. This test method is the most accurate technology available today. There is no guess work is protecting your families health.


NO Pressure Washing: It may be a fast and easy way to clean the exterior of a building or home, but if you don't control the runoff, the lead coming off the house can contaminate the soil, and go through the storm drain system and end up polluting stream and our great Puget Sound. Sometimes the lead residue also finds its way into the home or office. If you must pressure wash, the safe way is to collect all the runoff water and pump it through a 20 micron water filter, then dispose of it in the sanitary sewer (dump it down the toilet) so it does not make its way to the streams or nearby lakes.

NO Power Sanding: Many painters use either a disc sander or belt sander to smooth rough edges or to remove paint. Unfortunately, when there is lead in the paint, it also creates a lot of toxic dust that can be breathed in by the person doing the sanding or eaten by children who put their hands in the dust on a floor or window sill. Pets can and will also be at risk. If you use a power sander make sure you know how to control and properly contain the dust. The safe way is to use a sander that can be attached to a HEPA vacuum to collect the dust so it doesn't get scattered around.

NO Open Flame Burning: This is probably the fastest way to poison yourself with lead. The heat of the flame releases lead fumes that you breathe in as you work. Lead fumes are the worst, 100% of the lead toxins will then be inhaled. Some painters have been severely poisoned by using torches to remove lead paint on older homes. A HEPA respirator will not stop all the lead if it is turned into a fume. The days of melting down old lead for fishing weights is over.

NO Dry Scraping: Scraping paint creates a lot of airborne dust that later settles out on flat surfaces. Mist the area first with a water spray bottle to keep the lead dust under control.


Keep the dust to a minimum: Whenever you are disturbing lead painted surfaces, there is potential for scattering lead dust around. The thing to always keep in mind is the importance of controlling the dust. It is a lot easier to control dust by not generating it than by containing it, that is why it is important to choose the method that creates the smallest amount of lead dust. This usually means you do it by hand and you keep it wet at all times. The safest way to prepare a surface for repainting is to mist the surface with a spray bottle and scrape the loose and peeling paint off with a scraper. If you need to do some sanding to smooth the edges, you can use a wet sanding sponge. This approach is labor intensive, but you will create very little airborne lead dust using wet methods.

Keeping everyone out of the work area and the lead dust in: Don't anyone wander in and out of the work area; especially young children. Children, pets and women who are or may be pregnant or who are breast-feeding should not be in the work area at any given time. Put up caution tape and signs and seal off doors, lock them if possible. Use plastic sheeting and tape to seal off the work area and cover surfaces that aren't being worked on. Be careful when anyone leaves the work area to avoid tracking dust to other parts of the building.

Inside:  Depending on the work area, lay down up to two layers of 6 mil polyethylene (plastic) sheeting on the floor and secure it with duct tape. Also remember, duct tape may take paint off when it is removed. If you use it on finished surfaces, plan on repairing the surface immediately when you're done. You may want to use blue painters tape on painted surfaces that you don't want to repaint. If you will be generating airborne dust, you will need to cover the doors with plastic sheeting with a flap to let you in and out. Completely cover all other openings like furnace registers and cold air returns. Turn off the furnace and keep windows closed to prevent the lead dust from spreading around.

Lead Paint Surveys for Bellevue

Outside:  Lay down a sheets of 6 mil plastic sheeting on the ground next to the building. This will be your ground protection "drop cloth". Secure it to the building with staples and/or duct tape so debris won't fall behind the sheeting and contaminate the soil. Extend the plastic out far enough to catch any debris; if you're painting the wall of a one story house, ten feet out is a good amount. For smaller areas, windows and specific elements of design, at least five feet out from the work area in all directions. In many cases you don't have that much room, so you may need to put up a vertical barrier to prevent contaminated debris from ending up on the neighbor's property. Windows, doors and other openings in buildings within 20 feet should be sealed.

What is Ideal Containment:  Containment needs to be sufficient to capture  lead dust and chips. Ideally, you would completely seal off the area, including furnace ducts, cabinets, windows, doors. Then you would have a three-stage decontamination chamber complete with a shower that you would go through each time you leave the work area. Also you would have negative air pressure to make sure that all the air that goes out is filtered first.

Use common sense when deciding how much containment you use. You don't need to do a full containment of a room just to scrape a couple of square feet of wall. Just make sure that any material you scrape is contained and gets cleaned up. Don't track contaminated lead dust out of your work area. Remember to clean, clean, clean and clean your work area!

For more information on containment, refer to the "Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, June 1995, Chapter 8, "Containment and Barrier Systems," 


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