Lead Paint Hazards

As you can see, it may be hard to find an apartment or house to rent that has no lead paint at all. But not all lead paint creates an immediate, serious risk of exposure to lead. You must examine the condition of the paint carefully to determine if it is, or is likely to become, hazardous.

Look carefully at the condition of all painted surfaces in the home, checking to see whether the paint or underlying plaster or wood is loose or chipping. Lead paint that is chipping, flaking, blistering, peeling or chalking presents an obvious, serious risk of lead poisoning, not only because children may eat the pieces of paint that chip off, but because the deteriorated paint will produce highly contaminated dust. Things like plumbing leaks -- even something as simple as a leaking radiator or a sink or tub that overflowed in the apartment above yours -- can quickly cause paint to blister, peel and then chip. If this happens, notify your landlord immediately, keep children away from the area, and clean up all chips and flakes.

Landlords in New York City are required to repair exposed or damaged lead paint in any rental unit where a child under age six lives.18 Elsewhere in New York State, you should call your local public health department or housing department to determine if your landlord has any obligations under local codes. Landlords who are ordered by the health department or housing department to repair or remove lead paint must follow special procedures. Beginning August 30, 1999, individuals and firms providing lead paint hazard abatement in New York State must have EPA certification to perform such work, and must meet EPA work practice standards.19

Currently, no such special procedures are required when renovations, remodeling or repairs are made that disturb lead paint; this would include lead paint repairs that do not meet the EPA definition of "abatement." However, beginning June 1, 1999, occupants in target housing must be provided the EPA pamphlet about residential lead paint hazards before the start of repairs, remodeling or renovations that may potentially disturb as little as two square feet of lead painted surfaces.

Furthermore, even limited lead paint repairs need to be conducted using safe work practices, because a careless repair job can just make matters worse. Lead poisoning can be caused by careless or improper lead paint repairs, renovations and even simple maintenance repainting. Owners can face extraordinary liability if a child in one of their rental units becomes lead-poisoned, either because they didn't repair a dangerous lead paint condition, or because the repairs were not made with care. Because of this, it is in everyone's best interest to get the work done properly.

You should do everything you can to make sure that damaged lead paint is repaired quickly and carefully. If you have any question about whether the damaged paint contains lead, you or your landlord may wish to test the paint first, before starting repairs, especially if the damaged area is large (in New York City, damaged paint in an apartment that was built before 1960 must be presumed to contain lead unless testing shows otherwise).20 If the paint does contain lead, following special safety procedures will help ensure that the repairs themselves do not expose your children to dangerously high lead levels. Test results may help persuade your landlord to do the repairs properly. In all lead paint repairs, the goal should be to create as little paint dust as possible, to contain the dust and scraped-off paint chips, and to clean up completely.

The EPA has developed safe work practice guidelines for renovation and remodeling activities involving lead paint, including paint repairs, because these activities may create risk of exposing both repair workers and occupants to dangerous levels of lead. The EPA guidelines provide detailed information concerning work practices and safety precautions, including the use of special equipment such as respirators and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter-equipped vacuum cleaners. The EPA cautions that no one should undertake lead paint repairs unless they can follow all the work practices and safety precautions in the guidelines; otherwise, professionals who are equipped to do renovation, remodeling and repair work safely should be hired. (See page 14 to obtain a copy of the EPA guidelines, Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home).

The federal CDC recommendations for protecting occupants and workers during lead paint repairs include:

    • Remove all personal belongings, furniture, drapes, carpets, cooking and eating utensils from the work area;
    • Cover floors, counters, cabinets and radiators with plastic;
    • Close off the work area with 6-mil-thick plastic sheeting to protect other areas in the unit and heating and ventilation systems from contamination;
    • Keep residents, especially children and pregnant women, out of the work area;
    • Provide workers with protective equipment, including coveralls, shoe and hair coverings, gloves, goggles and respirators;
    • Before repainting, clean the area thoroughly by vacuuming the entire work area with a high efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA filter) vacuum, followed by a thorough wet-washing, and finishing with a repeat HEPA filter vacuuming.

Lead hazard abatements that have been ordered by a local health or housing department must be done following the procedures specified in applicable abatement regulations and in the order itself.21 In New York City, the City's Health Department lead paint abatement regulations must be followed when lead abatements have been ordered by the city's housing department or public health department.22 These regulations are an excellent guide for anyone who needs to know how to repair damaged lead paint properly. (See page 12 to obtain a copy of these regulations.) Detailed safe work practice recommendations for specific activities involved in lead paint repairs, renovations and repainting projects, are also available from the National Association of Home Builders. (See page 14 to obtain the NAHB publication, What Remodelers Need to Know and Do About Lead: A Guide for Residential and Commercial Remodelers and Painters.)

Even if the damaged area is very small, certain precautions should be taken. At a minimum, children and pregnant women should remain out of the work area while the repairs are done and until the final clean-up is completed. All belongings should be moved away from the work area before the work is started. The floor around the work area should be covered with plastic sheeting, and the surface being repaired should be wetted down frequently with a water spray to prevent dusts from spreading around while the blistering or peeling paint is scraped or wet-sanded away. Dry sanding and scraping should be avoided. A thorough wet cleanup of the entire work area should be done before repainting. The person doing the repairs should use appropriate personal protection equipment, avoid eating or smoking in the work area, wash up before meal breaks, and change clothes and wash up at the completion of each day's work.