Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - August 19, 2011

Positively Green

Your health and lead paint: how they fit together

by Iris Harrell

A majority of homes on the Peninsula were built before 1978. Why does that matter? The new and enlarged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead-paint laws (Renovation, Repair and Painting or RRP Rule) have been in effect since April 2010, which require any home built in 1978 or earlier to have accredited, trained and certified Renovation, Repair or Painting contractors working on their homes when any remodeling or renovations occur for non-emergency work.

Why have we not heard more about this new enlarged regulation? Frankly, there have been no court cases regarding this until very recently when the first cited contractor in Maine had a legal complaint filed against him on May 6, 2011, according to a recent EPA press release.

This first potential lawsuit has some interesting details regarding protection of residents and proper procedures for protection. While the company owner had been trained appropriately on safe lead-paint regulations and procedures, two of his employees "failed to contain dust and debris generated by lead-paint removal activities" during a repainting of an exterior on a property that was actually owned by the contractor. Portions of the paint removal were recorded on video and posted on YouTube. The purported danger was that at least six children resided in the fourplex building that had been constructed in the mid 1800s.

Other parts of the legal citation include failure to post warning signs in the work area, failure to cover the ground with plastic to collect the falling debris, and failure to stop debris and dust dispersion. Finally, none of the required records were kept to show that the new EPA rules had been complied with. The maximum financial penalty for the alleged violations is $37,500 per violation per day. OUCH!

The new regulations, while seeming like yet another government imposition, are designed to protect innocent citizens, particularly children and pregnant women, who have been shown to be particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from very small amounts of dust from lead paint.

I used to think that just toddlers and pets might be the most vulnerable, but after this most recent training received, I realized that even workers for contractors are extremely vulnerable to potential health hazards from lead dust as a lethal amount ingested or inhaled is miniscule. Thirty-two adults can be severely impacted from the amount of dust you could put in one small artificial-sweetener packet found in local restaurants at each table. That same small artificial-sweetener packet amount of lead dust could seriously impair 2,060 children.

The negative effects of lead do not have to be absorbed by swallowing. It can be inhaled, or, worse, the lead dust can travel on your clothes with you and be brought home to your loved ones.

The remodeling activities that cause the most dust are from deconstruction, demolition, sanding and sawing of painted surfaces. Besides protecting the ground and the surrounding area from dust on the outside during exterior work, interior debris and dust has to be handled almost as carefully as hazardous waste. Workers have to be in protective suiting. All horizontal surfaces (floors, countertops, window sills, etc.) have to be cleaned with a HEPA vacuum and then wiped with a wet cloth as do the floors. That cloth has to be compared to a cleaning verification card. If the wipe fails to be clean enough, the area must be recleaned and retested. If the second wipe fails the test, you must wait one hour and then wipe with an electrostatically charged cloth.

Proper post-job paperwork has to be filled out along with a record of the containment process, transport of the waste and proof of cleaning. These records have to be filed and kept for future inspection or inquiry from the EPA.

Many people yearn for the "innocence" and ignorance of earlier decades when we were not as bombarded with scientific data that we did not want to be bothered with. When the first atomic test bomb was exploded, no one knew the level of protection that was needed for participants, including observers. When I was a kid, we used to chase after the slow-moving mosquito truck that was spraying chemicals at dusk to kill mosquitoes. How naive and foolish was that?

When asbestos abatement required new safety procedures awhile back, much anxiety and angst was coming from a variety of the public, including some scientists who have said this is "much ado about nothing." But would you want yourself or one of your loved ones to be the "beta tester" to see if these findings are really accurate?

I would rather be safe and look foolish than find out later how important this health issue is to my family, our clients and my contracting co-workers.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.

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