Many houses, apartments and other buildings that were built prior to 1978 may have paint in them that contains lead. Lead-based paint can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly, especially for children and pregnant women. If you live in a home that was built prior to 1978, or if you’re thinking of buying or renovating one, this is certainly an issue that you need to be aware of.

On April 22, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a new rule into effect that’s designed to help focus the efforts of consumers and contractors to protect against the potential health hazards of lead-based paint. Called the Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP), the new rule affects contractors and subcontractors who work on older homes.

Under the RRP rule, all renovation and repair contractors working in pre-1978 homes, schools, and day care centers who disrupt more than 6 square feet of lead paint are required to become EPA-certified in lead-safe work practices. Contractors are required to take a one-day training course, and firms must send in an application to the EPA. If not, they could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines in the future.

According to the EPA, many contractors think the issue of lead-paint poisoning went away years ago. But lead-paint poisoning isn’t just about eating paint chips, and even contractors who think they’re doing a good job may not be working in a lead-safe manner.

In fact, new research shows that contractors such as plumbers, electricians, painters and window replacement experts can inadvertently expose children to harmful levels of lead from invisible dust disturbed during jobs they perform every day.

Of particular concern to the EPA is the safety of young children who are living in the home during renovation work. The EPA quotes one study where it was found that children were 30 percent more likely to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood than those in homes where renovations were not occurring.

Contractors who work on pre-1978 homes, apartments, schools, day care centers and other places where children spend time — from large and small contractors to building services professionals — will have to take the necessary steps to become lead-safe certified. EPA certification is good for five years.

Where is lead a hazard?

Typically, the older your home is, the more potential there is that lead paint will be present. It may be buried under several other layers of non-lead-based paint, and as long as those upper layers are not disturbed the health hazard remains relatively low.

But as soon as the paint begins to chip or peel, or if any sanding, cutting, or other renovation or repair work is done, the lead-based paint can be released.

Here are some of the potential hazard areas, based on suggestions from the EPA:

  • Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can’t always see, can be serious hazards.
  • Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
  • Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear and tear. These areas include windows and window sills; doors and door frames; stairs, railings, and banisters; and porches and fences.
  • Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry sanded or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.
  • Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes.

To find out more about lead-paint hazards, lead-paint testing, and the new lead-safe certification program for contractors, visit the EPA’s website at, or contact the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

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