How to re­move dan­ger­ous lead paint safely


QMy boyfriend and I own a home in Win­nipeg that was con­structed in the late 1930s and we have some con­cerns about lead paint. Our base­boards and win­dows are coated in lay­ers of thick white paint and they were not cleaned prior to paint­ing. There are thick clumps of dust and residue un­der the paint and it looks aw­ful. We’re look­ing to take them down to wood and paint them again but are wor­ried about pos­si­bly ex­pos­ing our­selves and our pets to lead. Do you have any steps or sug­ges­tions? Many thanks. Lisa Hous­ton An­swer: There are many min­er­als or com­pounds that have been used in build­ing ma­te­ri­als over the years that may have po­ten­tial health ef­fects on home­own­ers. Lead, con­tained in paint, is one of the most in­sid­i­ous of th­ese com­pounds be­cause it may re­main for decades after the orig­i­nal in­stal­la­tion. I will of­fer you sug­ges­tions while giv­ing some back­ground on this im­por­tant is­sue. For many decades, un­til the late 20th cen­tury, lead was one of the common com­po­nents of many types of house paint. Lead was used be­cause it was an eco­nom­i­cal way of adding dura­bil­ity or pig­ments to oil-based paints. Early on, there was lit­tle con­cern with lead use un­til sci­en­tists and doc­tors dis­cov­ered a link be­tween this soft metal and toxicity from hu­man con­sump­tion. High lead con­cen­tra­tions, from this and other sources, can lead to se­ri­ous health is­sues. High lev­els of lead in blood sam­ples have been linked to many types of neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties in kids. For this rea­son, lead con­tent was banned from ve­hic­u­lar gaso­line in the later decades of the 20th cen­tury and grad­u­ally re­moved from house paint around the same time. Since then, lead lev­els in hu­man blood sam­ples in North Amer­ica have dra­mat­i­cally de­creased. Since we have known about the ill ef­fects of higher con­cen­tra­tions of lead for many years, con­trols on man­u­fac­tur­ing and use of lead for items in our en­vi­ron­ment have proven quite ef­fec­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, paint in older homes is one of the main ar­eas where there may still be a large amount of po­ten­tial lead ex­po­sure. Pre­vent­ing this from oc­cur­ring may be a sim­ple two-stage ap­proach. En­cap­su­lat­ing the old painted sur­face with mod­ern lead-free paint and pre­vent­ing dam­age to the older paint. If cov­ered with sev­eral lay­ers of newer fin­ishes, dam­age to older paint nor­mally oc­curs due to me­chan­i­cal forces. This may in­clude chip­ping, scrap­ing or sand­ing the painted sur­faces. Avoid­ing th­ese prac­tices will help pre­vent in­ges­tion of lead from this source, but small chil­dren may still be at risk, es­pe­cially if the old paint has de­te­ri­o­rated. The ul­ti­mate method for pre­vent­ing lead in­ges­tion from older painted sur­faces in your home may be re­mov­ing and dis­card­ing the old wood trim. Ob­vi­ously, this may not be a prac­ti­cal or es­thetic con­sid­er­a­tion, so care must be taken to pre­vent ex­ces­sive ex­po­sure, as you plan your ren­o­va­tions. Your main con­sid­er­a­tion should be to min­i­mize phys­i­cal dam­age to the old paint that will al­low lead par­ti­cles to be­come air­borne. This could oc­cur from scrap­ing, sand­ing or burn­ing the old paint, which may be re­quired to ex­pose the orig­i­nal wood, as you de­sire. If you are dead set on achiev­ing that goal, you will have to take pre­cau­tions not to ex­pose any­one in the home to ex­ces­sive dust or air­borne par­ti­cles as­so­ci­ated with the paint re­moval. To achieve that goal, a high-qual­ity res­pi­ra­tor, nor­mally with char­coal or other suit­able can­is­ters, must be worn at all times dur­ing paint re­moval. Breath­ing in dust or smoke that be­comes air­borne from paint re­moval is a cer­tainty, if the proper equip­ment is not worn. The area where the paint is be­ing re­moved must be iso­lated and en­closed with plas­tic sheath­ing to pre­vent spread­ing any dust to the rest of the home. Clean-up will also have to be done with cau­tion, pre­vent­ing spread­ing of de­bris or dam­aged paint through sweep­ing or vac­u­um­ing. It will not be im­pos­si­ble to main­tain a safe level of ex­po­sure to lead dur­ing your ef­forts, but it may be dif­fi­cult. Another op­tion that will help pre­vent con­tam­i­na­tion of your home with lead may be to re­move the wood trim be­fore the work is done. Then, me­chan­i­cal re­moval of the old paint can be done out­doors, where cleanup will be sub­stan­tially eas­ier. This may only be pos­si­ble for the cas­ings and base­boards, but those should be the most vis­i­ble por­tions of the win­dows. In that sit­u­a­tion, the win­dow frames may only re­quire light sand­ing to re­move some of the bad paint job, be­fore re­paint­ing. The only draw­back of this method is the pos­si­ble dam­age to the older wood upon re­moval. The vi­a­bil­ity of that plan will de­pend strongly on the wood type, style and con­di­tion of the ex­ist­ing trim. The fi­nal op­tion, with­out the need for ex­ces­sive sand­ing, scrap­ing or burn­ing, may be chem­i­cal re­moval of the old paint. Chem­i­cal paint strip­pers have been used for decades, with vary­ing suc­cess. This will be a less cost-ef­fec­tive process, but the labour in­volved may be con­sid­er­ably re­duced. It will likely still re­quire some sand­ing and scrap­ing prior to re­fin­ish­ing, but may help you bet­ter achieve your goal of ex­pos­ing the orig­i­nal wood. Care must still be taken to pre­vent in­hala­tion of lead from the paint, with ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions to pre­vent dam­age to other house fin­ishes from the chem­i­cals. The key to ob­tain­ing a good-look­ing fin­ish to your old wooden win­dows and trim, which likely con­tain lead-based paint, is to min­i­mize ex­po­sure to the old paint as it is re­moved. This may be done by a com­bi­na­tion of good pro­tec­tion of the painter and the home from air­borne lead par­ti­cles and proper cleanup. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home In­spec­tion Ltd. and the past pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Home & Prop­erty In­spec­tors — Man­i­toba ( Ques­tions can be emailed to the ad­dress be­low. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out

his web­site at trained­

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