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House built in 1949. Decided to remove half of a closet that was framed out into the bedroom (and taking up too much space) and when the framing was removed it exposed a few layers of paint and what appears to be the original layer of drywall/plaster/sheetrock (not sure exactly what it is, the hospital green in the picture). Got a lead test from Lowe's and while none of it is red that original green surface turned dark pink in areas. Is this definitely lead? What do I do now? So far we haven't sanded this area or otherwise disturbed it since removing the framing. However, now that I see that green, I'm pretty sure I must have been exposed while drilling holes in other parts of the house, or sanded patched and painted other smaller areas. Trying not to freak out. Any advice on what to do with this now that we know would be greatly appreciated!

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    what do the instructions for the lead kit say? – jsotola Sep 29 '19 at 18:43
  • Just generic instructions of what not to do. I was mostly looking to see if anyone had first hand advice on the best way to handle. – Amanda Sep 30 '19 at 13:29
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For a house built in 1949 it would be amazing if original paint did not contain lead. The color has nothing to do with it. Most lead containing paint was white ; in the atmospheric sulfur of an urban environment it would slightly yellow. Zinc and calcium were also used and offset the yellowing . Then when titanium came along , bright white paint with high hiding power was possible without lead. A little lead was used but I forget the advantage it gave the paints. I would say if you don't eat the paint there is no problem , assuming you are not going to grind on the paint for hours and make fine dust. I painted the exterior of my house with a lead containing paint in 1968 and have not died yet.

  • Yeah, I was pretty sure there was lead paint somewhere, this is just the first we've had confirmation. That's a very interesting paint history lesson! Definitely no plans to eat it. Mostly we just wanted to clean up those edges and spackle/sand and paint, so you can't see where the framing was removed. Of course being as careful as possible to further disturb the area we now know has lead. But I was now nervous about what level of danger that would pose/we had already been exposed to. Thanks for your help! – Amanda Sep 30 '19 at 12:46
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There's a pretty good chance there's lead paint in the house. I was fortunate here (1910s home) that previous occupants preferred wallpaper - the only painted walls in the whole house were in the bathroom.

I wouldn't be too concerned about your past lead exposure, partly because you can't do anything about it now, partly because lead is far more hazardous to children than to adults.

I would make sure to thoroughly clean the house, removing as much dust as possible. This includes on top of cabinets, in closets, etc - anywhere you don't clean routinely where dust will tend to collect.

I did lead abatement for a couple weeks when I was in the military. It's not fun work, but professionals are $$$. It was estimated I saved the base about $100k. Before you proceed with further work, you should seal the room from the rest of the house and the outdoors as thoroughly as possible with plastic sheeting. This includes windows, ventilation ducts, etc. For doors they make special plastic sheeting with a zipper, but we didn't use those in the military - just two strips of sheeting with the gap in the middle, long enough to mount above the door and still lay on the floor, and a third sheet to cover the gap. It might be wise to schedule this work for cooler months - even in 70°F, working in a room with no ventilation and no fans can be pretty brutal. Probably why pros are $$$. You'll also need a tyvek suit (I recommend duct taping over the toes and shoulders, as these tended to rip for me) and an N100/P100 respirator, the filters for which should be replaced daily/every 8 hours of use. These can add up quickly for large, multi-day projects. Any debris will require special handling, contact whatever organization does your normal garbage pickup to figure that out.

That said, there are special products made for properly sealing lead paint, if you're not doing any further tear-out work. Pretty sure they're expensive AF relative to paint, but might be worth it just for the enormous effort they'll save. One such product was called Lead Stop. I'd still avoid drilling holes through any walls you seal with it in the future. If you have to, wear a respirator that indicates it's appropriate for use with lead dust and make sure to clean up promptly and keep any dust contained before cleanup. Skin contact is not a concern, but dust can get into your clothes and spread that way as well.

  • Wow, that's incredibly informative. That's really what we were really wondering, if it's something we could really take care of or needed to pay for. Thanks so much for all the info and advice!! – Amanda Sep 30 '19 at 15:25
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    I would check with your local jurisdiction to make sure, as sometimes they do require you to hire a professional for lead abatement. – Nate Sep 30 '19 at 16:34
  • Ah, good to know, thanks! – Amanda Sep 30 '19 at 16:58
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Do not eat it.

It's almost that easy. Also, don't breathe lead dust.

Lead paint is harmless if it's stable. It was originally exposed from social science. Some children were showing developmental disability; they turned out to be from slums. It was found paint was peeling there, sometimes due to leaky roofs. Underfed children were eating the peeled paint, or gnawing windowsills. Meanwhile in owned middle-class homes, that wasn't happening.

Breathing lead paint dust is an alternate way to get lead into your system.

Lead is difficult to remove from a body, and it is biocumulative - the more you ingest, the more damage it does. It chemically mimics elements your body needs, so it can sneak past the blood-brain barrier, for instance. The best curative for lead exposure is don't eat it in the first place. Even so, it's far more of a threat to a child than an adult.

If you don't ingest it, it's harmless. So don't eat it. Don't make lead dust and breathe the dust. If you mess up and get a tiny bit of exposure, it's not a big deal, just one step on a long road to illness; don't take any more steps.

Work it wet

I greatly dislike dealing with dust. Containing it, cleaning it up, etc. I especially hate the PPE you need to use - respirators and the like - and having to get showers immediately after and carefully contain dirty clothes (which you can only use once before washing).

The best way for a novice to work around lead dust is to "work it wet". Do wet-sanding instead of dry-sanding. Do operations that make paint chips instead of paint dust. Use chemical paint strippers instead of sandblasting. If you're "scuff sanding" for a new coat, use 3M green sponges instead of 3M green pads, and keep the sponges wet and work it out of a bucket. Use gloves if feasible, though the skin is a pretty good barrier. Don't rub your eyes or pick your nose. When you get dirty water heavy with paint dust, don't eat or drink it.

Down the drain is better than in the trash if you have city water; they are very worried about lead leaching from landfills (hence the RoHS requirements for electronics) and the sewage treatment plant has a good system for settling out solids in waste water.

Try not to burn things with lead in them. Breathing lead compounds in air is a big reason leaded gas needed to go away.

Thoroughly wipedown any dirty water or paint dust which remains on any surface. It's important to get that dust gone, because it'll interfere with the next coat sticking.

Seal it in with a good primer

And since the old lead paint is almost always oil-based, I like oil-based primers like Kilz Original, BIN, Zinsler etc. Note that in some states you must buy this stuff in quarts. Some commercial paint stores will cheerfully sell you gallons or 5-gallon, but they will deliver them in quarts. (The difference being about 30% on price :)

After the oil primer is painted down and cured, you can pretty much put the lead paint out-of-mind. Just make sure to inspect it periodically for peeling. And if it's a rental unit, have an immediate-response, zero-tolerance policy toward peeling paint. If they protest your immediate work, then pull some samples and do a lead test. Lead = no compromie. If another unit becomes available, maybe move them into it so you can rehab this one, but those walls definitely have to be painted ASAP. You don't need the liability! In a rental unit I would also use stripper to peel to bare wood any window sills or anything a child might teethe on.

Once primed, as long as it doesn't start peeling, it will be stable and harmless. Put it out of mind. It's lead, not plutonium.

  • In our area, sewage sludge goes onto farms. Not sure about the advice on sending it down the drain. – Bryce Oct 3 '19 at 6:04
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Quite simply, don't follow Internet advice, follow the law. In this case the EPA's Renovation Repair and Painting or RRP rules, adopted in all 50 states.
See https://www.epa.gov/lead/lead-renovation-repair-and-painting-program

Note your big box store lead test is not super accurate, and the chemical may turn red at much lower than a dangerous concentration. User error is a problem also, as to test right is a bit tricky, and generally requires cutting a small notch in to the paint first. I drip the chemical onto the surface in several cuts, rather than "swabbing" which gives me an average reading. Also keep in mind you really want to test clean surfaces so you're not picking up old lead contaminated dust from the age of lead gasoline, or the like.

True accuracy requires an XRF gun, only available to dedicated professionals. XRF would tell you the concentration and depth of the layer, and it can find lead paint under several layers of more recent paint.

To get EPA RRP lead safe, you can take an 8 hour course, offered to contractors and homeowners.

Or, proceed with care, ensuring you don't turn too much paint into dust, and that you collect what dust does get created. Renting a HEPA vacuum is generally a good idea.

Fortunately lead is a concentration thing. Unlike asbestos where single fibers can be a problem, a little exposure in an adult is no big problem. Just keep it clean, and HEPA vacuum to suck dust while drilling. In your case clean that wall with a disposable rag, speckle and feather, repaint and you're good to go.

Scrap lead painted items simply go in the trash. Note in California you can't rely on a lead test, as lead tests can be deceptive, and it is easy unintentionally or otherwise to get the answer you want.

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