- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

When Roberta Riccio was a child in the 1970s, public-service announcements about lead-based paint and lead poisoning were commonplace on the radio and television.
"There were television commercials every day when I was growing up about how dangerous lead was," Ms. Riccio remembers. "Now you never see them. I think people, for some reason, think they are safe."
That doesn't mean that the problem with lead-based paint has gone away, however, says Ms. Riccio, who is the Environmental Protection Agency's lead coordinator for the mid-Atlantic region, which is based in Philadelphia.
It's as important as ever, she says, for homeowners who are considerIt's as important as ever, she says, for homeowners who are considering renovating or remodeling their home if it was built before 1978 to take precautions, such as closing off rooms, wearing protective clothing and cleaning thoroughly after each step of the renovation.
Any chipping or scraping of old paint will create lead dust, she says.
Inhaling lead dust can cause health problems, such as high blood pressure and headaches in adults. In children, lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If a parent suspects that a child has been exposed to lead paint, Ms. Riccio recommends that the child undergo a blood test at a doctor's office, which will reveal if the child has heightened lead levels.
Lead-based paint was banned for use in residences in 1978, but the Northeastern United States, including the District, is full of older homes that were coated with lead-based paint on the inside and outside at some time in their history.
"I think it's something like a quarter-million homes that could contain lead-based paint in the area," Ms. Riccio says.
• • •
Before starting any type of remodeling however small it's important to find out whether lead is present, says Venkataiah Sreenivas, deputy bureau chief for hazardous materials and toxic substances at the D.C. Department of Health.
"We can send our inspectors, and we have education material available," Mr. Sreenivas says.
Inspectors come free of charge if the house is home to children younger than 6. Homeowners without children that young will get a list of contractors trained and certified in lead abatement. The contractors will test for lead for a fee.
The EPA does not recommend home test kits that homeowners can purchase at hardware stores to test for lead in their homes.
"There are a lot of false negatives and false positives in the test kits," Ms. Riccio says. "We have yet to see one that works."
The inspector uses a portable X-ray machine, which measures the amount of lead in the paint on walls, windows and doors as well as lead content in floorboards. The lead content is often highest in window and door frames, Ms. Riccio says.
"Windows and doors are more of a hazard than walls, for example, because of friction caused by opening and closing them," Ms. Riccio says. "And, a lot of the paint that was used on windows and doors was a semigloss that had a higher concentration of lead."
Many homeowners attempt to do the renovation and remodeling work on their own, which can be a problem.
"We don't encourage that," Mr. Sreenivas says. "We want to make sure they have certified contractors to do the work, contractors who understand the rules and regulations."
If lead is found, the homeowners may have to either seal off the room or rooms on which they are working or move out completely during the renovation unless the lead paint is undamaged and the homeowners decide just to paint over it.
"But you can only do that if the paint is fairly intact," Ms. Riccio says.
For sealing off rooms, a heavy-duty polyethylene plastic sheeting should be used, Mr. Sreenivas says. Duct tape should be used to hold the plastic in place.
Another safety precaution is to turn off central air-conditioning systems, which can circulate the lead to different parts of the house.
Often, the old paint is cracking and chipping, which is when the lead can become airborne and dangerous. When removing this kind of paint, it's important to contain the chips and dust as much as possible, Mr. Sreenivas says.
One way of containing while removing the old paint is to spray water or other wet solution on the wall before scraping off the old paint, he says.
"If you wet-spray the paint, you don't generate dust. You generate wet debris, which is easier to collect," Mr. Sreenivas says.
That way, the old paint is less likely to spread in the form of dust.
Wet-sanding sponges and wet-sanding equipment also are recommended. Most hardware stores carry all of this equipment.
• • •
Once the work is done, it's very important to do a thorough cleanup job.
Regular vacuum cleaners are not strong enough to pull out all the dust from carpets and floorboards, Mr. Sreenivas says. Instead, they may blow out the lead-contaminated dust through their exhausts and spread the dust.
"You need to use HEPA (high efficiency particulate arresting) vacuums," he says. "They are more effective. We have two of them that District residents can borrow" for free.
Also, any protective clothing worn during the renovation, such as coveralls, hats and gloves, have to be washed thoroughly after each day's work, Ms. Riccio says.
"Wash the clothes by themselves. Don't mix with other laundry," she advises.
Another safety precaution is to wash hands often, wet-mop floors and wet-dust furniture and windowsills.
Other cleaning techniques include removing the plastic sheeting by rolling it inward, putting construction debris in plastic, washing exposed areas with a general all-purpose cleaner, washing hair right after finishing work, changing clothes and shoes before leaving the work area and machine-washing separately.
Mr. Sreenivas does not know the exact number of homes with lead-based paint because the health department sends inspectors only when requested. He says, though, that of the 400 homes inspected last year, almost all tested positive for lead.
He recommends that homeowners call his office once a renovation is completed to request that an inspector come out to check for lead.
It may seem complicated and arduous to go through all these steps, Ms. Riccio says, but it's worth it.
"So many children are [still] getting lead poisoned," she says. "Lead is not just in chipping paint; it's in dust, too. It's invisible. It's in the air, and you wouldn't know it. But the good news is that it is preventable."
For more information on lead abatement and to borrow equipment, call the D.C. Department of Health at 202/535-1934 or 800/424-LEAD.

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