John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Weitz of RTK Environmental, an environmental testing and consulting firm. Robert is an EPA Certified Lead Paint Inspector and Risk Assessor as well as an Abatement Planner and Project Manager. Today, we’ll be talking about “Lead Testing in NYC.” Welcome, Robert.
Robert Weitz: Hello, John.
John Maher: When I think about lead testing in NYC, I think about lead paint testing. Is that the most common type of lead testing?
Robert Weitz: It is. Yes. Actually, there are four different things that we normally test for lead. Lead paint testing is very common. Lead paint testing is performed typically in any dwelling or commercial/industrial space built before 1978.
But particularly today, we’re going to be talking about residential testing. That testing is done normally with what’s called an x-ray device. It’s called an XRF. That stands for X-ray fluorescence. It’s the fancy term for it.
Basically, what it is, is that’s a piece of equipment that’s handheld, that we’re able to bring in to the dwelling. We hold it up to a number of different components, and we get readings back instantaneously of the level of lead that’s in that painted surface.
So, it’s not only the level of lead that’s in the last coat of paint, which normally would not have lead in it, but it does read through all of the paint layers, so that we’re getting a real analysis of what all the layers of paint have, because that’s the potential for a poisoning, particularly in a child. In NYC, a child, in this case, is defined as anyone under the age of six years old. That’s what the local law applies to.
John Maher: So, speaking of the local law, what are the specific local rules for lead paint testing in NYC, or having lead paint in NYC buildings?
Robert Weitz: Okay. Lead-based paint does have a local law in NYC. It’s called “Local Law 1 of 2004.” It’s referred to just as “Local Law 1.” That law specifically deals with a landlord-tenant situation.
Obviously, if someone owns an apartment, and they’re responsible for the condition of that apartment, and whether or not they have lead is between no one else because they own the apartment. So in a landlord-tenant situation, the Local Law applies to the buildings that were built before 1960 or between 1960 and 1978, if the owner knows that there is lead-based paint. And that would have been from prior inspection that they would have that knowledge.
This also applies to buildings that have three or more apartments, and where a child under the age of six lives in the apartment, so there’s certain requirements that are here, mostly upon the landlord, to provide a habitable environment for a tenant to live in.
So, Local Law 1 requires landlords to do an annual visual inspection, and then, to give that inspection report to the tenant in the month of January of each year. What the landlord needs to look for is any defective conditions, because remember, anything prior to 1960, if you haven’t had it inspected, it’s assumed to have lead-based paint. So, if any component becomes defective in that period of time, then it needs to be dealt with, and it needs to be brought back to an intact condition. So, that’s the landlord’s responsibility.
John Maher: So, we’re talking about things like paint chipping off of the walls or around the windows and doors, things like that. Or maybe, there’s some damage that’s been done to a wall that has paint on it, and so the paint is chipping off, that sort of thing?
Robert Weitz: Exactly. And also tenants, when they see that condition, the tenant is required to report that to the landlord, so that the landlord can make appropriate repairs to those surfaces.
John Maher: Okay. And so, what other types of lead testing are there besides lead paint testing?
Robert Weitz: Typically, there are four things that we test for lead. One is paint. And then, there’s dust, soil, and water. And water, we’ll talk about more in a minute. Soil and dust are very common to test for.
The most common two items that create a poisoning, particularly in children, are going to be the lead paint and the dust that’s created by it. So, as lead paint deteriorates, it creates dust. It falls down onto floors and window sills and window wells.
That’s one of the primary causes of how a child gets poisoned. It’s very subtle because a child can just put their hand down onto any of those surfaces. Everything with a child is hand to mouth. That’s how they investigate their world.
So, as they’re putting their hand in their mouth, a parent may be looking right at them while they’re doing it, and not even suspect that there’s any issue with that. So the dust is very important to keep under control by good housekeeping measures, and also by keeping the lead paint in an intact paint condition.
Then, soil is very prevalent. People don’t think that soil needs to be tested in NYC because everybody lives in tall apartment buildings. But there is soil. There’s soil in parks and in other places that children play. This soil can also become contaminated.
In the past, there have been a number of different stories about work that gets done on bridges. There was one in particular, the Manhattan Bridge, that goes from Brooklyn and Queens over into Manhattan. And that bridge was being worked on, and it was being sanded and prepped and painted. A lot of that material wasn’t being contained, and it ended up contaminating the soil on both sides of that bridge.
So, this was before people were really knowledgeable about, “Hey! This work really needs to be contained.” So, the soil issue is really a big potential issue. And then, the last item is water. I know that you have some questions about that today as well.
John Maher: Right. Before we get into talking about water, maybe just go into a little bit what your testing process is in terms of — Obviously, you’ll come in and somehow take a sample of the paint, and the dust, and the soil, and the water. What’s involved in doing that gathering process?
Robert Weitz: Okay. To reiterate it again, we used to take actual samples of paint. We would send them to a laboratory and have those analyzed. But now, with the XRF equipment, we don’t need to do that really very often at all. We hardly ever take paint chip samples at all.
But with dust and soil and water, those are actual laboratory samples. So, a dust wipe sample, it’s called. We use a baby wipe type of a material. It’s a moistened cloth. We take that out and we wipe it across the surface. And then, that sample is put into what’s called the centrifuge tube, which is a plastic tube and sent to the laboratory, where they will analyze the amount of lead that’s in that dust wipe.
And there are certain levels that are considered acceptable for a floor, for a window sill, and for a window well. These levels that are acceptable, have come down dramatically through the years because we realize more and more that even a small amount of lead can be detrimental to a human system. So, they’ve kept lowering the level of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. So, that’s how dust is taken.
John Maher: Does lead build up in your body overtime? Is that why it can be harmful in even just small amounts?
Robert Weitz: Absolutely. Sure. The more someone is exposed to the lead then it certainly builds up over a period of time. It’s been proven even now that it actually can get into the bones of your body and be held there over a period of time. So, elevated lead levels like that can be very detrimental to your health. It’s a poison to the human system.
John Maher: Right. So, do I need to the test my water for lead in NYC?
Robert Weitz: A lot of people do. I think it’s important to understand where lead in water comes from. Now, in NYC particularly, they have the stations in many parts of the city, where they actually go and are able to take samples directly from sidewalk stations. These stations are available just for that purpose.
So, on a regular basis, there are workers that go out. They take a sample. And what that does is that they analyze the water before it goes into any building or structure. So, that is monitored on a regular basis. And certainly, the supply would be one source of lead and water. So, that’s monitored, and they keep that down to an acceptable level.
Now, the three other places, where lead and water can come from before it’s actually consumed in someone’s home is from the supply line that goes from the source or from the street to the building. That’s one potential source of lead, and then, the plumbing lines all within a building.
For years and years, many years ago, lead piping was actually used in buildings, and there’s still some of that that still exists. And also, what was very common to use was lead solder. What lead solder is, is that’s the material that they use to put pipes together. So, most people would understand that it’s like a metal that’s a liquid, and it’s heated up, and then it’s coated around each of the joints.
For many years, that would contain lead. So, that could leach into the water. That’s how lead gets into the water. It leaches into it. And then, it goes through the faucet and then can be consumed.
And then, the last place that lead is very common, very common is in the actual faucet. So, a new faucet particularly, the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, allows up to 8% lead in the manufacture of a faucet to this day.
So, if they allow that and manufacturers use that, then it’s very potential, particularly if you leave water in the faucet for an extended period of time, that lead in that faucet can actually leak into the water or leach into the water. When you turn that faucet on, if you don’t let that water run a little bit, you’re going to get that contaminated water right in your glass that you’re going to drink, or brush your teeth in.
John Maher: Okay. And so, what point should I get tested for lead in my water. Say, I’m in an apartment building, and I have a landlord. Is this something that I need to talk to my landlord about and ask him to have testing done? Or is this another one of those requirements that every year, my landlord has to check my water for lead or something like that?
Robert Weitz: No. Local Law 1 doesn’t apply to water at all. It just applies to lead paint. So, any water testing that would be done is strictly the responsibility and at the discretion of the tenant or the owner in the particular dwelling apartment that they may live in.
We recommend that certainly everyone should test for lead in water. Again, lead is a poison to the human system. So, it just makes logical sense for someone to want to test for that, and to get a sample result back to tell them whether or not, “Hey! There is lead in this water,” particularly if you test more than one faucet.
Many people, if they only want to do one test, they’ll do the kitchen faucet because that’s where they use and consume most water from. But we have many clients that will test bathroom faucets, particularly. We have a lot of clients that will test bathtub faucets because that’s the water that their child is sitting in, taking a bath. They want to know if that water is contaminated because children do consume that water particularly as they splash and play in the bathtub. That water is going into their mouth and their nose, and it’s being consumed.
John Maher: So, can I get a lead testing kit and do this myself, or is this something I need to call RTK for?
Robert Weitz: Specifically, for the water or for lead paint and soil and dust as well?
John Maher: Why don’t we talk about both? We’re talking about water right now. So, can I get a lead testing kit and test my water?
Robert Weitz: You can, absolutely. There are bottles that you can get from different sources. You actually have to take a sample of the water. At RTK we take a sample of the water. And then, we bring that to our office and hand it off to a laboratory. So, it’s a very controlled method that we do it in, and that’s the advantage of having a company like ours do that testing.
Many of the kits, we call it that, would be like that. It wouldn’t be bad. But a lot of the kits, you actually take the water sample, and then you send it to a lab. So now, we really have no control of what happens to that water sample between the consumer and the laboratory. So, it can be done, but if you really want a professional result that you can depend on, you really need a professional company that would do that testing for you.
John Maher: What about on the other side for paint and dust? Can I get a lead testing kit and do that myself in a similar way? Or is that not recommended?
Robert Weitz: Again, you can. The biggest problem, one of those would be the lead paint test. Very often, what that will be, is there will be what’s called the “lead stick.” What a lead stick is, is it looks just like a crayon. It looks like a white crayon. It can have any one of a number of chemicals in it.
What you do is you break the stick in half. You then apply it to a painted surface. You wipe it on. You wait for a color change. Very often, you’re waiting for the color of the material you’ve applied to turn red. And theoretically, that indicates that there is lead paint there.
The problem with this – the biggest problem – is false positives. So very often, you’ll see a color changed to red, and it won’t be lead paint at all. It will be reacting to some other metal that’s in the paint. So, it’s just not reliable.
So, a lot of people may think, “Wow! I have lead in my paint.” But they really don’t. So, that’s why it’s advantageous in that case to have the testing done with an XRF, or to actually take a sample of the paint and send it to a laboratory to be analyzed.
Soil, dust samples, again, can be taken by the consumer. They can take those samples and send them to the laboratory for analysis. But as with so many things that are scientific, do you want a professional to do that? Or is it something that a homeowner wants to do?
Typically, a homeowner shouldn’t be taking lead samples primarily because they may be contaminating themselves by taking a soil sample or a dust wipe, and then, improperly handling it, and then, picking up a child before they wash their hands. There’s a number of different hazards that are involved with taking your own sample for lead.
John Maher: Well, Robert Weitz, thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Robert Weitz: Thank you, John.
John Maher: And for more information, you can visit the RTK website at rtkenvironmental.com or call 800.392.6468.