Its harmful effects are silent and largely go unnoticed. Its hazardous effects include hyperactivity in children, lower IQs, aggression, lack of attention, and lowered productivity in adults. Most importantly, it takes its greatest toll on our children because they’re more often exposed to lead in older school buildings. Long thought to be a problem of the past, lead poisoning once again has become an issue for our children, communities, and government.
On January 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed requirements to minimize the introduction of lead hazards resulting from the disturbance of lead-based paint during renovation, repair, and painting activities in most housing built before 1978. The proposal introduces lead training, certification, and safe work practice requirements for contractors involved in these activities. It’s one component of the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) more detailed regulations and attempt to establish lead-safe work practices that also include initiatives for training and an education and outreach campaign targeted at both workers and consumers. The EPA believes this new program will further its stated goal to eliminate childhood lead poisonings as a major public health concern by 2010.
Lead is a highly toxic metal used for many years, primarily in paint and gasoline. Lead can cause a range of health effects, from cognitive impairment and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Children under six are most at risk because their developing nervous systems are especially vulnerable to lead’s effects. In 1978, there were three to four million children with elevated blood lead levels in the United States. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based paint for residential use in 1978; however, an estimated 38 million U.S. homes still contain some lead-based paint, with two-thirds of the houses built before 1960 containing lead-based paint.
The proposed rule would apply to housing with lead-based paint built before 1978. The EPA would require all renovating firms and individuals be certified by the EPA. The renovators will be required to perform renovations in compliance with the work practice standards, a few of which include: post signs around the work area to warn occupants, isolate the work area so no visible dust or debris leaves the work area, worksite waste to be contained to prevent releases of dust and debris, and follow an approved cleaning procedure involving disposable cleaning cloths.
The proposed rule wouldn’t apply to owner-occupied housing where children under six don’t reside, minor repair and maintenance activities that disrupt two square feet or less of painted surface per component, and renovations where specified methods have been used to determine the areas affected by the renovation are free of lead-based paint.
If the proposed rule applies to a firm that performed renovations for compensation, the EPA requires an application for certification to engage in the renovations described above. Firms would have to apply for re-certification every three years. As an individual renovator, the proposed rule requires that a renovator complete an accredited renovator training course or be a certified lead-based paint abatement supervisor or worker. To maintain certification, a person would complete an accredited refresher course every three years.
The proposed rule also contains procedures for the authorization of states to administer and enforce these standards in lieu of the federal program.
The Peoria City/County Health Department also has raised issues with the severity of lead poisoning in Peoria County and Illinois overall. Illinois has the highest rate of childhood lead poisoning in the country, and Peoria County has the highest in the state. Why are poisonous incidents in this area so high? One contributing factor is the makeup of the housing and building structures. More than 86 percent of the homes built in Peoria County were built before 1978, the year lead-based paint and gasoline was phased out. Many of the homes in Peoria County were built before the mid-1940s, when the use of lead-based paint was common.
The problem, however, isn’t easily repaired by repainting old walls or cleaning old homes. Often, that’s exactly how lead is spread around in these older homes. Vacuums and rags easily can spread invisible specs of lead into the breathable air and also coat the surfaces of the interior of the home. Renovation also can present dangers, as renovators scrape paint and refit plumbing with copper pipes. These are the types of things the proposed rules are intended to avoid through proper education and training for contractors and renovators.
Old windows are also a source of lead, which is often spread when the windows are opened and closed, causing the lead-filled window casement to grind repeatedly. Once the window is open, the wind blows the lead into the home, covering the interior of the home with a thin invisible layer of lead.
Old homes and gasoline aren’t the only sources of lead. Tap water, soil, and fried and fatty foods also may contain small amounts of lead. Using wet wipes, instead of dry dusters, is also a way to avoid the dissemination of lead throughout your house.
In the meantime, the proposed rules are built to help prevent further lead-based contamination and also help builders, contractors, renovators, and others become well trained to avoid further lead contamination.
The proposed rule can be found on the EPA web site Subpart L Lead-Based Paint Activities (40 C.F.R. 745). The comment period for the proposed rule was extended to May 25, though it’s unknown as to when the proposed rule is expected to take effect. IBI