Photograph of a newly painted building exterior of an older home with small children present. Was lead paint left scattered on the ground in the play area?. 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
  • LEAD PAINT REMOVAL TROUBLES - separate article
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to remove lead paint from buildings
  • REFERENCES

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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.

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Lead Paint Removal Basics - Which Lead Paint Removal Method is Safest?

Readers should see PAINT FALURE, DIAGNOSIS, CURE, PREVENTION - in depth information on paint failure cause, cure, prevention at this website, Also see LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Other lead paint removal methods were listed in a study by the US Army Corps of Engineers: Methods for Removal of Lead Paint from Steel Structures, Technical Report REMR-EM-08

Abrasive blasting [see MOLD CLEANUP by MEDIA BLASTING]

  • Wet Abrasive Blasting
  • Vacuum Blasting
  • Water Blasting
  • Water Blasting with Abrasive Injection
  • Power Tool Cleaning to Bare Metal
  • Chemical Stripping
  • Other blasting methods.

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:

  1. Keep pregnant women and children under six years old out of the building during paint stripping
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Do not eat or smoke near the work area and don't eat with lead-dust-contaminated hands. Wash up before eating.
  5. 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.
  6. Watch out for environmental testing and cleanup that are not performed by qualified experts. Details & examples of what can go wrong are at LEAD PAINT REMOVAL TROUBLES and similar cases are found at ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete and ASBESTOS REMOVAL CERTIFICATIONS.

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