Lead Paint Removal Basic Advice: Methods, Safety Hazards
LEAD PAINT REMOVAL ALTERNATIVES - CONTENTS: Basic Safety advice for lead paint removal on buildings. Comparison of the relative safety of different lead paint removal methods; Certification & Training for Lead Paint Abatement, Cleanup, or Removal Workers & Companies. Warnings about un-trained lead paint removal workers; Studies evaluating and comparing lead paint removal methods. Study recommends lead paint removal on steel structures; NPS preservation brief: Exterior Problems on Historic Woodwork.
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Lead paint removal methods for buildings:
This article warns about un-supervised or un-trained environmental cleanup companies or work crews handling asbestos, lead, mold, and similar indoor contaminants, including
identification of amateur or improper asbestos "abatement" projects that failed to properly remove materials or that left abandoned
asbestos materials in place.
Lead Paint Removal Basics - Which Lead Paint Removal Method is Safest?
Lead exposure hazards during removal of lead paint on buildings comes through exposure to lead paint dust or fumes that are breathed, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin by direct contact.
If you are stripping lead-based paint from a building the hazards of lead paint exposure depend on several variables including what personal protection you are wearing, air and dust control, the lead paint stripping method used, and of course the total level of lead in or on the surface being stripped of paint. The following lead paint stripping methods are listed in order of most dangerous to less dangerous:
Propane torch stripping of lead paint is potentially the most dangerous method because you are burning and vaporizing the lead paint, making it easy to breathe lead vapors and possibly to absorb lead through the skin, especially if you're sweaty and skin is exposed.
Infra-red heating to strip lead paint: is similar in effect to propane torch stripping insofar as it too vaporizes and can burn off lead paint leading to high exposure to volatile lead vapors
Chemical strippers for lead paint and chemical strippers used in a dip or trough to remove lead paint are dangerous in part because the chemicals most often used are themselves dangerous, containing carcinogens that are easily absorbed by breathing or through the skin.
Sanding or scraping lead-based paint is probably second in risk level to using a propane torch but it produces a high level of ultrafine paint dust particles that require expert dust control and collection. Remember seeing those guys stripping paint off of the exterior of an older home without using dropcloths? Later lead contamination of the soil became a particular concern around such homes, especially where young children were likely to be rolling around in the dirt close to the building.
Electric heat guns for stripping lead-based paint: According to the Old House Journal, who in turn quoted a National Bureau of Standards Lead Paint Hazards report, using a heat gun or electric "hot air gun" is safer than propane torches, sanding and scraping, infra red heating (also can vaporize lead paint), solvents (dangerous themselves, often carcinogenic), or dip tank methods (solvents in a tank or site-built trough) but the same report and the OJH concluded that no lead paint stripping method was considered anywhere the "perfect safety" rating - every method is risky.
These paint stripping methods are discussed in depth along with helpful recommendations for removing and restoring exterior paint on buildings in this excellent brief: Exterior Paint Problems on Historic Woodwork, Kay D. Weeks and David W. Look, AIA, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Service Preservation Brief No. 10.
In discussing maintenance painting, the study includes an interesting finding about using chemical stripping:
Chemical stripping is not an alternative for maintenance painting
because it does not locate areas with loose coating. However, chemical
stripping should be considered when total removal of the paint is warranted,
especially on relatively small areas such as on machinery, because the
stripper can be applied to all surfaces with little difficulty.
The OJH and other sources recommend eight safety measures when lead-containing paint is being stripped:
Keep pregnant women and children under six years old out of the building during paint stripping
Use adequate ventilation and dust control - typically an indoor work area is kept under negative pressure by fans blowing outside through windows, and to avoid blowing dust onto neighbors, special ventilation systems (same as used for mold remediation or asbestos cleanups) use filters as part of the exhaust fan system.
Personal protective gear for workers includes a HEPA-rated respirator and if heat is being used, a canister that also filters out volatiles, combined with protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, etc. Don't wear your dusty lead-dust-contaminated clothing back into other areas of the building, nor in your car or truck, nor back home. We use disposable Tyvek-type coveralls that are bagged at the exit to the work area. If you are wearing clothing that is going to be washed and re-used, wash those items by themselves and rinse the washer afterwards.
Do not eat or smoke near the work area and don't eat with lead-dust-contaminated hands. Wash up before eating.
Dispose of the stripped lead paint dust, debris, scraps by bagging them for proper handling. If your community permits you can dispose of these materials as construction debris or in some communities, household trash. Check with local officials to stay out of trouble. If you are using a shop-vacuum to clean up lead dust and debris, don't use the same vacuum in other building areas unless its filter is changed and the vac is first cleaned. The exhaust from some shop vacs may be simply redistributing lead dust and particles.
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(June 15, 2011) MM in Philly said:
I find it interesting that it is claimed that heating paint with a blow torch and heating paint with an infrared light source are the same level of lead exposure risk, even though the temperatures of the two methods can be quite different. Is there actual experimental evidence for this?
Heat guns may be safer concerning lead (though I don't know why), but are widely considered more dangerous than infra-red in terms of starting fires. Again, as the heat of a heat gun is higher than that of an infra-red source, not sure why lead vapor is less of a worry (other than the blowing of the gun blows lead in the opposite direction.)
Not mentioned is steam heating, which obviously is limited to temperatures far below that of other heat methods.
MM: you pose a very good question/complaint about lead hazards with various paint removal methods. I think that if we exclude steam for a minute, as well as chemicals, each of which has different and significant worries and effectiveness, we ought to be able to sort out the risk of different paint removal methods by finding out just what temperatures are used with each device.
If we are worried about hazards from vaporized or oxidized materials in paint, lead and other components, then the same temperature is likely to have about the same effect regardless of what device is used to obtain the heat.
However a blow torch not only includes the added risks of an open flame but also it's more of a point source of very high temperature heat that is more likely to oxidize, burn, or even start a fire than an IR system.
I used blow torches 40 years ago, moved on to electric heat removers (very slow, you could compare this however to IR), occasionally used chemicals (plastic trough soaking clapboards and trim, environmental worries), and ended with a strong preference for a hot air heat gun. The heat gun was very effective in sofening paint and less of a fire hazard. I have not tried using steam to remove exterior paint on buildings, and am a bit skeptical about its efficacy. Have you got experience with that method? Were there issues with driving moisture into the walls?
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Questions & answers or comments about methods used for removing lead paint from buildings.
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Thanks to reader GK October 2010 for discussing incompetent lead paint removal, lead paint dust contamination left indoors by the painting contractor, and how to clean up the lead paint dust mess.
"Lead Poisoning Update", The Old House Journal, 1983
Exterior Paint Problems on Historic Woodwork [Copy on file as /exterior/Preservation_Brief_10_ Exterior_Paint_Problems_on_Historic_Woodwork.pdf ] - , Kay D. Weeks and David W. Look, AIA, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Service Preservation Brief No. 10. Web search 02/01/2011, original source: http://www.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief10.htm
Methods for Removal of Lead Paint from Steel Structures, Technical Report REMR-EM-08, Lloyd Smith, Corrosion Control Consultants & Labs, Inc., Kentwood MI, Alfred Beitelman, US Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories, Champaign, IL, US Army Corps of Engineers, 1994, Department of the Army, US Army Corps of Engineers, Washington DC 20314. Websearch 02/01/2011, original source: http://www.cecer.army.mil/techreports/beit_led/BEIT_LED.RPT.post.PDF
National Bureau of Standards lead paint hazards report NBSIR-75-974 [Abstract]. Demonstration of experimental lead paint hazard abatement methods in Atlanta, Georgia final, Dept. of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards, Institute for Applied Technology ; Springfield, Va. : for sale by the National Technical Information Service, 1978, OCLC # 04094947, at OCSPP Chemical Library/Washington,DC
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
"The voluntary standard established in the United States under ASTM F-963 and the European standard under EN-71 for soluble lead in toys (lead which may migrate from the toy and be ingested by the child) is 90 parts-per-million. At that level, any intentional use of lead in paints or other surface coatings containing lead would immediately put the toy over the permitted limit."
"Under federal law, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) enforces a standard for total lead of 600 ppm. Recently, the CPSC refused to lower the lead limit in paint and other similar surface coating materials to 100 ppm after finding that most paints sold in the United States were already at or below that level and, therefore, these materials did not present an unreasonable risk of injury warranting further government regulation."
"The lead-in-construction standard was intended to apply to any detectable concentration of lead in paint, as even small concentrations of lead can result in unacceptable employee exposures depending upon on the method of removal and other workplace conditions. Since these conditions can vary greatly, the lead-in-construction standard was written to require exposure monitoring or the use of historical or objective data to ensure that employee exposures do not exceed the action level. Historical data may be applied to all construction tasks involving lead. Objective data was intended to apply to all tasks other than those listed under paragraph (d)(2) of the standard.
"OSHA does not consider X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to be an acceptable method of analysis. As stated in your letter, XRF analyzers are generally considered accurate when concentrations of lead in paint exceed 1 mg/cm�. For the purposes of occupational health, these levels are considered substantial and may easily present an exposure hazard. Without having conducted monitoring, or without the benefit of historical or objective data, the employer has no assurance of the employee's exposure.
"Other regulatory agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) have designated levels of lead in paint below which they consider the paint to be non-lead containing. The missions of these agencies differ from OSHA's, and for that reason, OSHA cannot recognize these levels as safe under workplace situations"
We recommend reviewing this position letter from OSHA. -- DF
How to Identify Lead Paint Hazards, Maryland Department of the Environment, outlines
when a lead inspection is necessary, who can perform a lead inspection, and the types of analysis used for lead inspections and testing. Maryland
DOE includes suggestions for do-it-yourself lead paint testing using paint chips or scrapings. If you follow this approach be sure your
samples accurately represent conditions at the whole building, inside and out -- DF.
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