A rental property owner and two contractors have been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency in recent weeks for violating the federal Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. In effect for a year, the law requires contractors that disturb painted surfaces in homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Although the law doesn't apply to homeowners who do their own work, the EPA recommends that they also follow lead-safe practices.
The EPA fines illustrate some of the things that can go wrong during a renovation project. In Maine, a rental property owner was fined $10,000 for using power equipment to remove the paint from the exterior of an 1850s apartment building with untrained workers. A Nebraska home repair company was fined $5,558 for failing to give five homeowners an EPA-approved lead hazard pamphlet before beginning work. And in New Jersey, a window and siding company was fined $1,500 for failing to contain dust and waste during a replacement project. In all three cases there were issues with EPA certification.
If you are planning an indoor painting job and have young children in your home, you may want to hire an EPA-certified technician rather than do the work yourself. You can find one on the EPA's website. If you want to tackle a painting or wallpapering job yourself, here's what the EPA recommends.
- Cover the floor and furniture with heavy duty, plastic sheeting.
- Avoid sanding lead-painted surfaces whenever possible.
- If you must sand, use a sander with a vacuum attachment connected to a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner or use a wet-sanding sponge.
- Wipe the area you are sanding often and rinse the sponge in a bucket of water. Strain out any paint chips and dispose of them in heavy-duty plastic bags.
- Wash the walls with a solution of water and an all-purpose cleaner. Let them dry before painting or papering.
- Heat guns may be used to remove paint, but do not use those that operate above 1100º F.
Fortunately, today's paints are not only lead-free but many are also low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been linked to respiratory illnesses. Consumer Reports paint Ratings contain many products that meet the toughest VOC regulations while also delivering top performance.
—Mary H.J. Farrell