Lead-based paint is no longer manufactured, sold or used – and for good reason. Painters and other tradesmen performing work on buildings containing lead-based paint can release the dust or debris that contains lead and, if ingested or inhaled, can cause lead poisoning which does harm to the heart, bones, kidneys, reproductive organs, intestines and – especially – to the nervous system. This last one is the big one: since lead poisoning interferes with the development of the nervous system it is particularly dangerous for children to be exposed to lead-based paint dust and debris, because it causes permanent learning disabilities and behavior disorders. It is often said that lead poisoning doubles the number of children in special education programs. For these reasons, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the “Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule” (RRP), which went into effect on April 22, 2010, and requires contractors to practice lead-safe work techniques in order to protect their customers and customers’ neighbors.

The RRP Rule requires painting contractors, renovators and remodelers who may disturb painted surfaces in homes built before 1978 to get certified by taking a “Lead Safe Work Practices” class from an EPA-accredited education firm. It is only necessary for people who work for compensation (hired to perform the work) to comply with the safety measures put in place by the rule (and avoid the $34k fine), but if you are planning on painting your home yourself, you would be well-advised to follow some of these rules yourself – especially if you have children or if your neighbors have children. Safety FIRST. Here’s how:

Safety Steps to Take for Do-It-Yourself Painting on Pre-1978 Buildings

EPA-Certified contractors have to comply with very strict guidelines. Visit the EPA website (look for the pamphlet called “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools”, which refers to the RRP rule) to find out what is required of them. Homeowners, however, can safely paint their homes by following some simple rules.

  1. Use an EPA-approved test kit to check if there is lead paint somewhere under (or on) the surface to be painted, and test in several areas. Alternately, just assume that if the building was constructed before 1978 that it has lead-based paint somewhere in it.
  2. Consider posting signs (this is necessary for contractors, per the RRP rule) or personally warning your neighbors about your project. Let them know you’ve educated yourself on the safety measures that are necessary to keep them and their families out of harms way.
  3. Wear a HEPA P100 mask throughout the entire job to ensure that you don’t inhale any of the toxic dust. Protect yourself first, then protect others: remember the safety guidelines on airplanes that tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others- same concept applies here.
  4. Isolate the work area so that no dust or debris can escape. This can be achieved with plastic barriers (which must be discarded after use). You should also remove all furniture and other objects (for interior jobs) from the rooms being painted so they remain free of the toxic dust and debris. Also close and cover all ducts with plastic, and close all doors and windows. All protective materials need to be disposed of properly.
  5. Cover the ground with plastic so that no dust or debris enters the soil around the home (for exterior jobs). Cover the floor to prevent toxic dust/debris from penetrating carpets, and for easier clean-up on hardwood/tile/other flooring.
  6. Purchase and use a HEPA vaccum to clean the entire area extemely thoroughly after the job. This applies to exterior and interior projects and is very, very important.

*NOTE: View the complete RRP Rule legislation for full details on what contractors need to do in order to comply with the rule and keep people safe from lead poisoning. This will help if you choose to hire an EPA-certified painting contractor, renovation, home improvement contractor, etc.

If you are careful about the dust and debris caused by an interior or exterior job that disturbs lead-based paint, you can rest assured that you will not cause any harm to yourself, your children, your neighbors, or anyone else. It’s extra work, but when it comes to project safety and the health of others it’s always worth the extra time and money.

This article was written by Richard D’Angelo, President of the painting, drywall and carpentry home improvement contractor, CraftPro Home Improvements.