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 reducing your family’s risk of lead poisoning.
Robert Weitz: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
What is lead poisoning and how is it caused?
John: Robert, what is lead poisoning? How is it caused?
Robert: Lead poisoning specifically is when there’s an elevated level of lead in the blood. This is measured in micrograms per deciliter.
Anything below 10 micrograms per deciliter is considered to be a “normal” level, although the CDC that sets the acceptable level has dropped this dramatically through the years from 40, down to 20, down to 10 now. There are rumors that actually it will go down to likely five micrograms per deciliter.
The reason for this is that we’re finding through more and more research that even very, very low levels of lead in the bloodstream, particularly in a child’s bloodstream, can be very detrimental to brain function and learning capability.
Lead poisoning is really poisoning of the blood and then it gets into the rest of the system. It’s caused by different ways.
The primary cause of lead poisoning is dust. That dust is usually generated from a painted surface. As lead paint deteriorates, as most people have seen paint itself cracking and flaking, that deterioration settles down onto flat surfaces, be it a windowsill, or well, or a floor, or outside onto the soil.
That dust is very easily picked up, particularly in children. That’s where we focus mostly with lead poisoning, except for worker exposure, which we can talk about in a minute.
Everything is hand to mouth contact with the child. They literally pick up the dust on their hands and on their fingers and then they put their hands into their mouth.
You might think, “Well, wouldn’t that taste terrible?” The child would just not do that again and just spit it out. The unfortunate thing about lead is that it has a very sweet taste to it. When the child gets it into their mouth they’re actually liable to do just the opposite and go back to that area so that they get that sweet taste in their mouth again.
Lead in the Home
John: Wow. What areas of the home typically have lead in them?
Robert: Lead is usually evident mostly in lead paint. That’s where a lot of lead issues come from and originate from. Lead in paint can be in any painted surface.
There are certainly areas of the home where it’s most typical to have lead paint. Lead was banned for residential use in 1978, so any dwelling built before that is a candidate for lead paint.
Mostly it was used on the exterior surfaces of a house. Then it was used in many areas as well inside the house. It’s very commonly in kitchens, in bathrooms, on trimwork, anywhere where more durability would be required. Lead was a very good material to be putting into the paint because it made it so durable.
John: When you say trimwork, that means that it’s probably on a lot of window frames and things like that. And then, of course, you’re picking up the window and closing it or picking it up and closing it over and over again. I imagine that that makes the paint start to deteriorate over time and maybe flake off.
Robert: Yes. One of the primary places where lead dust is generated is from windows that go up and down. They’re called double hung windows. Every time you open and close that window there’s a little bit of dust that’s generated. That dust naturally falls down. It goes onto the windowsill, the window well, and then also down onto the floor.
These are prime areas, again, particularly for a child to pick up this material on their hands and get it into their mouth as an introduction into their body.
John: Are there everyday things that I can do to help prevent coming into contact with lead in my home or prevent my children from coming into contact with that?
Robert: Absolutely. The first thing that really you can do that’s the most proactive is to know where the lead is. Where is it? Is it even there? If so, what components is it on?
The way that this would be done would be hiring a company like RTK Environmental to come out and to do an inspection. The equipment that we use is called XRF equipment.
We go around room by room. We test a number of different components in each room, usually 10 to 20 components in each room. We get readings back of the amount of lead that’s on that surface.
The surfaces that come back with lead paint on them, now we’ve identified the areas where lead is.
The most important thing to do with those components is to keep the paint condition intact. We don’t want them to deteriorate at all. Also, to be careful not to intentionally disturb those surfaces.
Once you disturb that lead paint, it goes right back to creating dust. The dust again is the primary cause of poisoning.
When is a lead inspection recommended?
John: You said it’s important to know where the lead paint is. I anticipate that that means you need to get a lead inspection done. When is a lead inspection recommended?
Robert: Any time that there’s a house built before 1978. Some people used to say, “Well, I don’t have a child so I don’t need to be concerned with lead paint.”
You do because you do painting. You do renovation. You do remodeling. There are all different types of ways that paint surfaces can be disturbed. Every time it’s disturbed, if there’s lead paint there then that lead becomes part of the household dust.
It’s also airborne when you disturb it by sanding or scraping. It becomes airborne and it can also be breathed in. This type of lead can be either breathed in through the nose or the mouth or it can be eaten or put in your mouth from hands or whatever surface.
John: It’s really important, as a homeowner, to get that lead inspection done if my house was built before 1978, just so that I know where that lead paint is. That can be the first step toward making sure that I don’t come into contact with it.
Robert: Absolutely. The lead paint report that we provide is a tool. It really is a very good tool. When you go to paint or renovate or do anything that will disturb the paint, then you go to that tool, that lead paint report, and you look down the list.
You go, “OK. This is my child’s bedroom. We’re going to do repainting here. We know from this report that there’s lead paint on the doors and on the walls. We know that when we disturb those areas we want to do so in a particular way.”
Usually it would be by wetting the surface with water. Then it would be OK, typically, to sand or scrape that as long as the surface stays wet because there’s no dust that’s created.
John: If lead is found during my lead inspection, what’s the next step that I should take after that?
Robert: The first thing that you would want to do is if the leaded surface is in defective condition, we want to take that component and we want to get it back to an intact condition.
We don’t want to have any peeling or flaking or anything like that coming from the surface because that deterioration creates the dust which goes back to the potential for poisoning.
We want to get any lead painted surface back into an intact paint condition. Then it can be monitored at that point.
Lead paint, as long as it’s in place, it’s in good condition, and it’s not on a friction surface like that double hung window we were talking about. Lead paint is fine as long as it’s intact and isn’t being disturbed.
John: Great. Robert Weitz, thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Robert: You’re welcome. It was nice to be here. Thank you, John.
John: For more information, you can visit the website at rtkenvironmental.com or call 1‑800‑392‑6468.