DIY Lead Paint Treatment and Removal Can Cause More Problems Than It Solves
If you currently own or are purchasing an older home, you probably know all about the risks of lead-based paint. You know that homes built before 1978 (when the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint) are likely to have lead-based paint that was never removed properly and was probably simply painted over. You also know that exposure to lead can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women. In fact, according to the CDC, "Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected."
So what do you do? You might be tempted to rush out to purchase a wire whisk, sander, or paint stripper to get that toxic metal out of the house as soon as possible. But first, being the responsible homeowner you are, you do some research to find out how to do it safely. And, unless you have a great deal of construction experience under your belt, this might be where your DIY ambitions begin to fade. It takes a lot of specialized equipment, expertise, and experience to remove lead paint safely.
Removing lead paint without proper precautions can actually be more hazardous than leaving it on the walls. That's because it is the contact with the lead that causes problems. A wall that was painted with lead-based paint years ago and then repainted a number of times poses less risk of contact than when the lead is exposed through scraping, stripping, or sanding. All these methods cause copious amounts of lead dust and paint chips, which must be dealt with properly. "Lead-contaminated dust is one of the most common sources of lead poisoning in children," according to the Mayo Clinic. You can't see or smell the lead, so it's difficult to identify and eliminate all possibilities for exposure.
The RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a program created by the EPA) and OSHA have strict regulations that must be adhered to when removing lead paint in an industrial setting. As a homeowner and DIYer, you are not required to adhere to such strict regulations, but it is in your best interest to do so. After all, protecting your family's health is what this is all about, right? The EPA recommends that homeowners take the following precautions, among others, when removing lead-based paint:
In other words, you have to be very, very careful when removing lead paint.
So what's the takeaway? Are we recommending that you simply leave the lead-based paint on the walls? Not at all. The lead paint needs to be taken care of, but it's best to talk to a trained professional before making any DIY decisions.
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