St. Leonard woman helping to get the lead out
Change in law brings more homes under lead paint inspection rules
Lead can still be a problem in homes despite the metal’s nationwide ban from household paints in 1978. And a Maryland law that took effect last year now requires rental property owners to test for lead, register the dwelling and provide educational brochures to renters if the house was built before 1978.
“I knew that the law was getting ready to change, which was Jan. 1, 2015,” said lead paint inspector Kathy Olson of St. Leonard. “I saw an opportunity because the previous law was if your house was built prior to 1950 it had to have lead paint certificates done. With the change it went to 1978 and prior. There’s a lot of years of houses that need to be inspected.”
Olson, who had retired from 25 years of nursing, earned her inspection certification and started Lazillo Lead Inspectors, and she’s been kept busy ever since helping property owners get caught up with inspections and paper work and to get in compliance with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“There’s a lot of old houses in Southern Maryland — all these farm houses,” Olson said. “This is basically about either buying a new home or it’s a rental property. Owner occupied properties do not need to be tested. Second homes do not need to be tested if they are not rented.”
“If you’re the homeowner, and owner occupied, it’s completely up to you,” she said. “This program is to protect children and pregnant women. That’s the target.”
Parents with young children living in an older home should get an inspection, Olson said, and a future buyer might require it as part of the terms of sale.
“Some people want to know because they just want it cleaned up to make it safe,” she said. “Buyers, they definitely want to know because they’re moving their children or family into the house.”
For rental properties, the lead inspection has to be done every two years or with a change of occupancy, according to a fact sheet distributed by MDE. An exception to that is if the home can earn a “lead free” or “limited lead free” certificate. Those certificates are good for the life of the property.
Olson said she uses an “X-ray fluorescent analyzer” gun for that type of inspection. It requires “shooting” all of the paint surfaces close up and it can detect the presence of lead through as much as 50 layers of paint. While the inspection costs a bit more, starting at around $400 for the smallest home, if the house passes it gets the lifetime certificate.
“It gives me a reading and tells me negative, inconclusive or positive,” Olson said. “When I leave that job I can tell you if you have lead paint or not.”
“If I’m doing the lead-free for life testing, this is the instrument I use.”
If there’s a good probability of lead paint, Olson said the only alternative is to do a visual and “dust wipe” inspection. That type doesn’t earn a lifetime certificate but generally costs less.
“If I have a 1938 farmhouse and it’s rented — it needs to be tested — that’s going to get a different type of certificate or inspection,” she said. “That is going to be, in layman’s terms, dust wipe sampling.”
“This testing is made for houses that we know have lead in them. They cannot pass that other inspection, so this is what their option is.”
Olson said she goes over the process with her clients two to three weeks before the scheduled inspection so they know how to prepare, such as performing a thorough cleaning and repairing chipped and peeling paint which could trigger a fail.
“The visual inspection itself costs $155,” she said. “The wipes are $14 apiece. That covers the lab analysis. If you’ve got 10 rooms and they’ve all got windows, I’m going to be doing 20 wipes. You can see, that also runs up.” Each room with a window requires a minimum of two wipes.
Though Olson hasn’t yet come across a failed inspection, she said if a dwelling can pass muster the next step is abatement.
“If it’s in a wall, you’re talking major renovation. If it’s in a window, you can replace that window without too much problem,” Olson said. “After that I go back and do a clearance inspection.”
“If they do abatement, they have to use an MDE abatement contractor,” she added. “If they have their Joe Blow next door neighbor do the work it is not acceptable. I need to submit a supervisor’s statement of work and they have to have [an MDE] accreditation number.”
Even homes going back into the 1960s can often earn a “lead free” or “limited lead free” certificate, she said, though sometimes a painted cinder block foundation can be problematic.
“I have not, honestly, had one of these fail yet,” she said. “If they listen to me and they do what I tell them to do, then there’s not a bunch of lead floating around. They get their pass and that’s what they’re looking for.”
Kathy Olson of St. Leonard demonstrates the X-ray fluorescent analyzer gun she uses in her lead paint inspection business. The gun allows her to give a lifetime lead-free certificate in some homes.