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We hired some contractors to help us re-paint our 1.5-year old kid's room. They started this morning by scraping several parts from the walls. A few minutes after they started, I thought I should test it, so I ran to the store, bought a test-kit from 3M, and it turned very red, an indication that it does contain lead paint. You can see the 2 red dots below:

enter image description here

I asked them to stop immediately, so now they're cleaning up all their equipment and helping me seal off the room with plastic and tape.

My question is what do I do now? I'm trying to find a lead-paint specialist after the fact, and I may have found someone to come in a few days (they're all busy right now), but what do I do for the time being? Should I isolate that whole part of our house, or should I try to clean it up with a HEPA vacuum? Will running the AC kick up dust all over the house? Can I bring my 15-month old into the house at all? The contractors have been walking in and out all day, so I presume that dust has probably been tracked all over the place, and it's probably floating all over the house as they pack their gear up.

Update:

Thanks for all the advice. I'm doing a run to the hardware store later today and will be gearing up with rags, plastic bags, mask, etc. I'm thinking of buying a vacuum like this handheld one for the final touchups after wiping everything down because it comes with a HEPA filter. Should I throw the filter away after I'm done? Or am I over-worrying? I don't want to end up using it in my car in a few months and releasing lead-dust all over the car.

enter image description here

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  • 6
    Using a vacuum is probably enough. With most nasty stuff, you are concerned about the total amount over a period of time. Lead water pipes are usually worst than lead paint, because of the long time to ingest the lead.
    – crip659
    Jun 22 at 20:37
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    Take a deep breath, and then — oh, okay maybe skip the deep breath. Jun 23 at 10:29
  • 3
    @Marquizzo they have a HEPA filter inside, that doesn't mean the vacuum itself meets the HEPA standard. The companies guilty of doing so absolutely should be larted senseless for deceptive advertising. Jun 23 at 21:45
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    Your contractor should be performing this remediation work, or paying for it. They created a hazard in your home and they are responsible. Hopefully they have insurance to cover the loss. If not, they're still liable. If they refuse, contact your county's District Attorney's office. no joke.
    – Billy C.
    Jun 24 at 1:49
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    You might genuinely have a case to get a room at the Extended Stay for 3 months, or a Verbo or other accommodations and bill them for it. They really, really stepped in it. This will likely ruin their company. They should not have accepted the job without a lead waiver or without properly billing to pay for remediation processes.
    – Billy C.
    Jun 24 at 1:58
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This should have been detected or suspected earlier by your contractors. There are specific guidelines for dealing with lead-based paint repairs and coverings that are mandated by law, in many states (homeowner laws are not as strict as contractor laws).

There are several other Q&A on this site about dealing with lead-based paint but most of them don't address "after the fact" like your situation. You may find their advice informative nonetheless.

A quick search turned up New York's guidelines for contractors and homeowners on preparing and cleaning up lead-painted areas, this matches my experience when I was a painting contractor dealing with lead-paint properties. I pulled this quote which can help you with next steps from their "cleanup" section near the bottom:

It is very important to do a proper cleaning of lead dust and debris after any work is done. Cleaning ensures that lead hazards are not left behind at the end of the day or end of the project. The work areas should be wet cleaned daily, by misting and collecting debris in 6-mil plastic bags followed by using wet cloths or wet mops on all surfaces. Homeowners can dispose of debris along with household trash. At the end of the project, use a HEPA-filtered vacuum on all surfaces (floors, walls, ceilings, woodwork, carpeting, furniture). Then wet mop hardwood surfaces and clean other surfaces with wet cloths. The final step is to do another HEPA vacuuming of the entire work area.

Other important notes specific to your situation: lingering lead dust is the most problematic part of the whole process, and is the most dangerous to children and pregnant women. Wet-clean surfaces and HEPA vacuum a few times (twice daily for 2+ days) before bringing your 15-month-old around.

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  • 1
    Yeah, I'm very unhappy with the way the contractors failed to test for lead paint. They're supposed to be the professionals. We're going to get a full refund for their day's worth of havoc. Thank you for the additional information! I might go rent a HEPA vac at Home Depot and fix this mess.
    – Marquizzo
    Jun 22 at 20:51
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    Just to reinforce: don't run your ac or fan. Let any dust settle, then vac vac vac with a good hepa unit. Protect yourself with a good P100 mask. Keep your work clothes separate from everything else and wash promptly. Keep the little ones away, as children are more susceptible to lead issues. And for what it's worth, scraping (with paint chips) is way less bad than sanding. But keep taking this seriously -- it's not trivial. Jun 23 at 1:35
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    Suggestion to add: Lead is very detectable, so buy some more test kits. Vac & clean untill you cannot detect any. Do the test on the vacuum cleaner bag. If you found lead, change the bag (and dispose of it as regulation stipulates) - vacuum again. Jun 23 at 6:52
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    Suggestion #2: OP could also rent a "wet" vacuum, that sucks the gas through a water column as the final cleaning step; it basically becomes a scrubber. It is reasonably common in "industrial" hoovers. Those things have a much improved performance in terms of particles in the exhaust. Jun 24 at 6:40
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Shut off all ventilation.

Mask up (Where will the average person find a mask? LOL)

Vacuum like a madman (a HEPA vacuum is a good choice).

Get very clean water and very clean rags/towels, and wipe down the ceiling and all the walls. No need to scrub, just a light wipe to pick up any dust. Note the the "very clean" isn't relevant to picking up the lead (dirty rags would work); it's just to keep your walls looking nice.

Wait for the house to dry out. Vacuum again just for good measure.

Wash everything in the regular washer. The wash water can go down the drain, no need to involve EPA.

Lastly... the most important part... Don't worry about it. You've got essentially all of it that is mobile. Some people react like all mildly toxic things are frickin' plutonium. It's lead, not plutonium.

(heck even plutonium isn't frickin' plutonium lol, unless it's heavily contaminated with Pu240 or Pu241, then, yeah.)

Why is it a big deal? (or to be more precise, why isn't it a bigger deal?) Because humans tend to have "one gear" when it comes to responding to toxins in the home. That one gear is "everything's plutonium". We've seen people call in hazmat response teams over a broken CFL light (we've even seen busybodies in city government encourage that). Several times a year on this very forum, people lose their minds over hardboard asbestos (while thinking nothing of the Roundup in their garage). Because hey -- asbestos has a lot of really bad press (thanks to lawyers and trust funds), and Roundup has a bunch of glowing adverts saying how awesome it is. And that, my friends, is the basis of most people's "scientific" knowledge.

The real threat, is not the lead. It's the social impediments to collecting accurate data about actual risk. Lead is a danger in a particular way: Research found that tenement buildings (whose occupants were tenants) tended to have peeling paint. And children tended to eat that paint where it was left peeling, because it's a little bit sweet, and they were often under-nourished also. This was resulting in poor children being affected by lead poisoning, where rich children were not - they kept their houses tip-top. Read the literature if you are interested, there's a great deal more to it.

The very fact that you are remodeling shows that you're not in the "deteriorating house, peeling paint" scenario which was the cause of the trouble. Your goal is to stop ingestion of the paint (via eating or breathing). What I described above will certainly take care of that!

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    @Marquizzo Any wet towel will catch the dust. But only a very clean towel and water will leave a clean white wall afterwards.
    – jpa
    Jun 23 at 5:58
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    +1 for the "It's lead, not plutonium". Vigilance against toxic things is good, but the lingering dread to even go inside that room would be madness.
    – akwky
    Jun 23 at 9:08
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    I know nothing about this topic - but a reference or two would be good. You might be the world's leading expect on how to manage lead paint dust, or you could be Dave from the local who'll do any job for half the price. I'm not suggesting you are Dave, but a reference to back up what you're saying let's us judge your validity and competency based on the reference! Jun 23 at 9:14
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    @user6916458 You're right, in theory, but you don't get 183k reputation by being Dave. Jun 23 at 14:35
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    @GuntramBlohm You don't get a Nobel by being Dave, but that doesn't stop Daveness from developing later.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jun 23 at 16:46
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There are two answers currently saying essentially, "It's only lead. It's not a big deal."

This is bad advice in my opinion. I would describe lead as more dangerous than plutonium. Not that it is more likely to kill you. But it is more likely to cause permanent damage short of killing you or your children. Lead is particularly dangerous to children. It can cause damage in development. I would not describe it as mildly toxic. Alcohol is mildly toxic.

Plutonium 240/241 kills you by radiation. You would show symptoms. They would attempt to flush the substance out of your body. If they would succeed, you would usually recover. Because there is a certain amount of radiation that you receive regardless. The problem is just when it is excessively concentrated. So unless there are large amounts, you would usually be able to heal the damage. Because damage from radiation is expected. There are safe levels of radiation and we can detect radiation well below those levels.

There is no safe level of lead. Lead can cause damage even if there are no immediate symptoms. We measure lead exposure in parts per billion. If we can detect the lead in the bloodstream, then it is not safe. From the CDC lead FAQs:

A blood lead test is the best and most readily available way to find out if your child has been exposed to lead. Most children with lead in their blood have no obvious symptoms. Talk to your child’s health care provider about getting a blood lead test.

Your health care provider and most local health departments can test for blood lead. Many private insurance policies cover the cost of testing for blood lead. Children enrolled in Medicaid are eligible for free testing and should be tested at ages 12 and 24 months. Contact the appropriate childhood lead poisoning prevention program in your area for questions about testing for lead.

Old paint can contain up to 50% lead.

So there are two reasons to test your children for lead now:

  1. They've been living in a house with lead paint. Hopefully they were tested previously so if there had been a problem, you'd know.
  2. Right now, they may have been exposed to lead contamination due to the recent activity, which is likely to have kicked dust into the air. Note that they could have been exposed even if they weren't there. Because you were there and if you then went where the child was, you could have carried lead dust with you.

Note that the hope here is that the test will not show any lead. And that still remains possible. But you should definitely verify that by following your pediatrician's instructions. Those instructions should almost certainly include a blood test for lead. Of course, your doctor may have already tested your child for lead at twelve months (and at twenty-four months if you have a child older than that).

Now, all that said, lead is heavy. It doesn't stay in the air (although you may put it into the air when you walk through the dust). Once you clean up the dust, things will be much safer. You shouldn't worry excessively after abatement. But right now, before abatement, this is a big deal. You should get your children away from that room and preferably away from the house. The lead was much safer when it was still in paint stuck to walls. Once it became dust, the risk increased greatly.

The safest place for that lead is under an encapsulant. You shouldn't sand it down (that releases lead in the dust) unless you plan to abate afterwards. Note that if the paint was already peeling, you may have to abate. The encapsulant will hold the lead dust into the wall. You may find that it is a good idea to encapsulate even if you sand first, because some of the paint may have seeped into the wall material.

Just to reiterate a couple points that people have already made:

  1. A HEPA filter does not make a vacuum itself safe for lead removal. You can put a HEPA filter in anything that takes a filter. The whole vacuum has to be designed to force everything through the HEPA filter or it's not sufficient. I.e. you need a HEPA vacuum with HEPA filters. Not just a regular filtered vacuum with a HEPA filter replacing the regular filter. You should be able to find a vacuum that is lead-certified. You may prefer to rent it.
  2. You need a lead-respirator mask with a HEPA filter, not just the kind of mask that people wear for COVID prevention. COVID masks prevent the wearer from exposing others. You need a mask that protects you.
  3. Wash your hands and the bottoms of your shoes thoroughly. Wash your hands once before cleaning your tools (including the previous mentioned vacuum and mask) and then again, thoroughly, after. Change your clothes. So you don't spread the lead contamination after doing abatement work (and you are already doing abatement work as you sealed off the room). You should do this as close to the room as is practical. Because lead that you carry with you through your house, into your car, and wherever your children are now is still dangerous. Clean the places you travel as well as the room where the contamination occurred.
  4. It would be better to have this done professionally, by people who already have lead-safe equipment, who already know the lead safe process for abatement and encapsulation. This is not a recommended Do-It-Yourself project.

The biggest thing helping you here is that lead itself is heavy and stable. While the lead is in the walls, it is unlikely to be a problem. The concern here is that some of the lead was removed from the walls and is now dust.

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  • The sh*t thing is that drilling the wall to install something will bring that lead out, if possible to remove the lead completely is the best option. Jun 24 at 16:57
  • Thanks for the info @mdsfst13 I'm renting this vacuum that claims to have 3 filtering stages, including a HEPA filter. It's the best I could find in my area. I've also purchased a P100 mask and lots of protective equipment (disposable shoe covers, body cover, eye protection, etc. I'm thinking of spray+wiping all surfaces first before turning the vacuum on, to minimize the air kicking anything up.
    – Marquizzo
    Jun 24 at 17:01
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    Plutonium doesn't just kill you by radiation; it's also absurdly chemically toxic. I heard one chemist say on the subject (paraphrasing), "uranium has been called a boogeyman for its extreme toxicity, but it at least exists in nature and the body has ways to deal with it. Plutonium doesn't. If uranium is a boogeyman, plutonium is a straight-up demon!" Jun 24 at 17:28
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    It doesn't really make sense to talk generically about whether lead is more or less toxic than plutonium. It depends completely on the method of exposure: chemistry.stackexchange.com/a/137204/6999 Since people don't have any frame of reference for thinking about how toxic plutonium is, it's not helpful to use it as a metaphor. There is no safe level of lead. This kind of language is not helpful in discussing chemical hazards. A substance like lead exists at trace levels in our natural environment. "Safe" is a relative term. There is certainly some level of lead that is ignorable. Jun 25 at 0:01
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    This answer is a giant overreaction to the ops situation.
    – eps
    Jun 25 at 16:31
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From the EPA brochure: Contractor Lead Safety During Renovation

What to Do When Working on Interior Jobs

• Remove furniture and belongings, or cover them securely with heavy plastic sheeting with all seams sealed.
• Close and cover all ducts in the work area with taped down plastic sheeting.
• Close windows and doors in the work area.
• Cover doors with plastic sheeting unless used as a work area entrance. If used as an entrance the door must be covered with plastic sheeting in a manner that allows workers to pass through while confining dust and debris to the work area.
• Use plastic sheeting to cover floors, including installed carpet, a minimum of 6 feet beyond the perimeter of the surfaces being renovated or a sufficient distance to contain dust, whichever is greater.
• Use precautions to ensure that all personnel, tools and other items are free of dust and debris before leaving the work area.

Additional cleaning for interior renovations: Clean all objects and surfaces in the work area and within 2 feet of the work area in the following manner, cleaning from higher to lower:

• Clean walls either vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum or wiping with a damp cloth.
• Thoroughly vacuum all remaining surfaces and objects in the work area, with a HEPA vacuum. The HEPA vacuum must be equipped with a beater bar when vacuuming carpets and rugs.
• Wipe all remaining surfaces and objects in the work area, except for carpeted or upholstered surfaces, with a damp cloth. Mop uncarpeted floors thoroughly.
• A certified renovator must perform a visual inspection to determine whether dust, debris or residue is still present. If dust, debris or residue is present, these conditions must be removed by re-cleaning and another visual inspection must be performed.
• Perform a final clean-up check. Use disposable cleaning cloths to wipe floors, counter tops and windowsills in the work area and compare them to a cleaning verification card to determine if the work area was adequately cleaned.
• When the work area passes the post-renovation cleaning verification, remove the warning signs.
• To order a cleaning verification card and detailed instructions, visit our website at www.epa.gov/lead or contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

1

As a parent, this would give me concern.

If you have a spare room I'd move the child out of the room for a few months while doing the cleanup and the paint. Make it a "game" if possible "look we're going camping in the Spare Room"

Wash the child's bedding and all the clothes before re-wearing - start with the immediate use things. And toys too - both hard and soft toys. For items that can't be washed, a detailed wipe down would be required. Items inside boxes are probably OK, but the box needs a clean on the outside. Drawers are not air-tight and clothing inside drawers should be washed.

Clean all the items inside the room - don't bring them out. I'd use a lot of wet-wiping and rags to wipe down surfaces, together with a good vacuum should cover most possibilities. A small paint or chip brush dipped in water with some detergent will get right into corners.

Lead is not asbestos, and will settle over time. By comparison, asbestos dust will float in the air for days/indefinitely. Use this to your advantage by cleaning from top-to-bottom. And vacuum the floor first and last thing in your cleaning day. Don't forget lips and ledges, lightshades and powerpoints.


More generally, if one room has a problem then other rooms are likely to have similar problems.

Once the kid's room is cleared and usable, make a plan to work through your house completely, one or two rooms at a time. Work with your lead painting specialist to remove or properly seal it for the future.

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    Thank you for the advice! That's exactly what we are doing, he was at daycare when it happened, and we've been staying at a hotel every night since, until I'm satisfied with the cleanup. But that room is going to remain unused until we get the wall gashes patched back up by a lead-certified professional. We have one scheduled for next week.
    – Marquizzo
    Jun 24 at 20:04
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Exposure to lead dust can have life long implications. There is no safe level of lead, and it is especially harmful to children. If your child may have been exposed to lead, please have your doctor do a blood test for lead level. Also keep in mind that the level in the blood will show recent exposure. If the exposure was several weeks ago, the blood lead level may no longer be elevated, but the lead may have been absorbed into the body.

As far as removing lead dust, you may want to hire a lead abatement expert. If you do it yourself, please watch some videos about how to do it properly. Here is a link to one video: https://youtu.be/ahYpVG5VHwg The type of vacuum cleaner needed is a sealed system with a HEPA filter and disposable bags. Finding the right one can be challenging, as vacuum cleaner manufacturers may make misleading claims. The Nilfisk GD 930 is one that is often recommended.

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TL;DR -- Lead in such tiny amounts won't do any meaningful harm. Wear a mask so it doesn't get in your lungs, and vacuum afterward... People drive me nuts with this stuff! Yes, there are special procedures written up for everything, but you always make a trade off to get the job done somewhere. I have never in my life seen someone even test for lead paint, and I've done my fair share of work in construction.

Lead is dangerous when you ingest it, and it was once used as a sweetener and as a friction-reducing additive in gasoline. Burning it and breathing the fumes is bad. Directly eating it is bad. Dust existing while you work on it with proper PPE (a mask)? Not really if at all. Don't purposely rub the paint dust into your skin, don't eat it, and vacuum when you're done.. I don't see how it could harm you. Over time, eating lead sweetener makes your brain stop firing as well and you literally become dumber, but we're talking massive quantities compared to the paint dust you'll possibly intake.

Another common cleanup related issue... Asbestos; it's dangerous when you touch it as it breaks up into tiny dust particles that are easy to breathe in, but otherwise it's MUCH better than fiberglass as an insulating material, and thus SHOULD be used in homes. Of course, it cannot be in the USA anymore due to health concerns from installers and nosy children who weren't told otherwise, but China still enjoys the benefits of it AFAIK.

One more common misconception for funsies... mercury spills. While most areas require a fuggin' insane cleanup procedure costing insane amounts of cash, liquid mercury is not dangerous unless it enters the bloodstream, and even then the body tolerates more than you'd imagine (eat much fish?..). So if you have gallons of the stuff on the floor, maybe suck up as much as you can, but if you break an old time thermometer? Just shopvac it and dispose of the little ball of it appropriately. Mercury vapors are the worry, and that's what allows fluorescent tubes to, well, fluoresce, but they're also quite minuscule in total content per bulb.

People lose so much money to being overly safe with this stuff it's not even funny. To prove it's not a big deal, I have literally licked a lead-acid battery terminal before (years ago), and literally nothing changed about my health or well-being in any way. Don't do this, obviously, but the point I was making has been sharpened by my previous dumb decision.

Also, I signed up from StackOverflow to post this. Hi DIY!

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    This is not an answer to my question. I'm glad you licked a lead battery without repercussions, but I'm asking for help on cleaning up a 1.5-year old's bedroom (it says so right there in the first sentence), not asking for nonchalant anecdotes on risky materials to play with.
    – Marquizzo
    Jun 24 at 3:50
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    This is really bad advice. Lead isn't only toxic in large amounts. In fact, we know of no safe levels for lead. It is very unlikely to kill you. But it causes brain damage even at extremely low levels. We measure lead exposure in parts per billion. Here, we're talking about lead that is a million times more concentrated than that. Lead can stay in the body for decades after exposure.
    – mdfst13
    Jun 24 at 7:11
  • Again, I answered the question. EPA says to vacuum it afterward, does it not? I also mentioned wearing proper PPE while working with it. I don't see how "this is really bad advice" when it both answers the question and points out that 99% of people could care less about lead paint during a remodel because it's pretty much a non-issue as cleaning up dust is already standard procedure. But you know, I enjoy my comments being deleted :)
    – Jimmio92
    Jun 24 at 15:03
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    I don't get what licking the terminal of a lead acid battery proves. Licking solid lead (if that's what you did) once wouldn't be expected to cause any significant accumulation of lead in your system.
    – JimmyJames
    Jun 25 at 14:24
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    @eps I'm somewhat sympathetic to that viewpoint. I doubt anyone (at least my age or older) has avoided all exposure to lead in their lives. As a parent, I would definitely err on the side of caution, though.
    – JimmyJames
    Jun 25 at 17:21

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