Home safety: Can i do lead paint stripping safely?

Lead paint is a common household hazard. These tips will help you deal stip this hazard out of your home while protecting your family.

Can I Do Lead Paint Stripping Safely?

The answer is “Yes, you can if you follow some basic safety guidelines”. Understanding what makes lead hazardous will help you devise a work plan that keeps you and your family safe.

Lead was used in paint until 1978 when it was banned for use in the U.S. Lead accumulates in the bodies of those exposed to dust or fumes and causes any number of serious physical symptoms. It is especially hazardous to pregnant women and children so whenever the possibility of exposure exists, safety precautions must be followed. Lead becomes a problem when it gets into the body. This can happen in several ways but the most common are by eating chips of paint (children are notorious for this), by breathing dust or fumes (this happens to everyone) or by drinking contaminated water. The solution then is not to create dust, fumes, flakes or dirty water.

Home safety: Can i do lead paint stripping safely?

I’m going to assume that the paint to be stripped is indoors since removing lead paint from the outside of a house almost demands special tools and techniques. If you are stripping a small area outside, the techniques I’m going to describe will work. As I said, we want to avoid creating particles of paint that can be blown around or contaminated water that can soak into the ground and contaminate the water supply. This means no scraping, no sanding, no sand blasting and no high pressure water washing. What’s left? Our old standby; chemical stripper.

The first step is to prepare the area. Remove all furniture, throw rugs and anything else that is moveable. Cover everything that remains with heavy duty plastic sheeting (the EPA recommends 6mil polyethylene) just in case some dust is accidentally produced. Turn off heaters and air conditioners to prevent blowing dust into other areas. Wear a respirator when you work and keep non-essential personnel out of the area. The respirator should be NIOSH certified for removing lead from the air and equipped with HEPA filters. Make sure you get the right filters. They are always purple. Don’t try to use the disposable paper dust masks. They will not protect you. Wear coveralls or a long sleeved shirt and long pants.

Now you’re ready to begin the actual paint removal. There are many strippers available and they all produce toxic, flammable fumes. If possible, choose one that advertises low fume production and water cleanup. Use a fan to blow the fumes out of the area and make sure there are no sources of flame or sparks that could ignite the fumes. Apply the stripper as directed by the manufacturer and remove the paint. If you wash the wood afterwards, collect the runoff in a bucket or pan. Check with your local government agencies to find out how to dispose of the paint residue and runoff. Regulations vary but usually the residue can be disposed of in heavy duty plastic bags in the garbage. The water usually can be strained to remove lead chips and poured down the toilet. Don’t pour it on the ground since this could contaminate the groundwater.

If it does become necessary to sand any portion of the surface, turn off all fans, use wet sandpaper, mist the area to keep it wet and vacuum the residue with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter. These vacuums are available for sale or rent at many builder supply stores. An ordinary vacuum cleaner will not capture all the dust and will blow some of it back out into the room.

Cleanup is a last very critical step in the project. Vacuum to remove as much dust as possible (remember to use a HEPA filter equipped vacuum cleaner). Vacuum your clothes and shoes. Keep the dust as wet as possible to prevent it from flying around. Remove the plastic sheeting by carefully rolling or folding it with the dusty side in and dispose of it in a heavy duty plastic bag. Remove your work clothes before removing your respirator. Put them in a bag and wash them separately from any other clothes. Wash your hands and face and shower as soon as possible.

The EPA has a pamphlet titled “Renovate Right Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools ” that has more information about lead hazards and how to avoid them, download it from their website at www.epa.gov/lead. Following these common sense rules will keep you and your family safe while you finish your remodeling project.

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