In Our Backyard: Spring Into Home Improvement Season With Healthy Renovation Tips From The Maine DEP

March 27, 2012

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A note about In Our Backyard: In Our Backyard is a monthly, informational column written by staff from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and available to the press and the public. Send your environmental questions to infodep@maine.gov or to In Our Backyard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

By Beth Pratte, Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Ordering seeds for the garden. Rolling the grill out of the garage. Picking out paint colors for the bathroom remodel.

Spring has officially sprung and as you make your plans for the renovation and repair projects that come with the season, remember to protect your family from lead poisoning. Working on or in a house or building that was built before 1978 may disturb lead paint, and that action can expose children and adults to toxic lead dust.

More than 100 children are poisoned by lead each year in Maine, most commonly by dust from lead-based paint. Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, lower intelligence, behavioral problems, learning disabilities and hearing damage. Lead dust ends up on the surfaces of what children play on –like floors and coffee tables– and with. Children under the age of 6 are most at risk for lead poisoning because their brains are developing very quickly and because they are more likely to put hands and anything they can get them on in their mouths.

If you are planning to renovate or repair your home, protect your family from lead poisoning by using lead-safe work practices or hiring a certified lead renovator for the job. Prior to any project, you can test for lead paint using swab tests available for around $20 at hardware stores, paint stores and home improvement centers.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, there are basic steps you can take to protect your family from lead poisoning. These steps are especially important when tackling high-dust generating jobs like scraping paint, demolishing old plaster walls or ceilings and removing wall-to-wall carpeting, paneling, baseboards and door or window casings.

Before you begin any project, safeguard yourself from dust and debris with protective clothing. Make sure to seal the work area off –including any heating or ventilation ducts– to contain dust and cover any furniture or other items not being removed from the room with protective sheeting.

During the renovation or repair, create as little dust as possible by using wet methods when sanding or scraping paint. Never use an open flame torch or heat gun that operates above 700, as it can vaporize and cause harmful fumes. And always keep dust inside of the work area and children, pregnant women and food and drink out.

Following the completion of a project, clean up dust from lead paint safely. Mist all protective plastic sheeting before rolling inward and disposing along with other trash and debris in a doubled heavy garbage bag and sealed with duct tape. Vacuum (using one with a HEPA filter), then mop or wash with disposable rags or paper towels (utilizing a separate wash and rinse bucket) to finish cleaning the area and then kick your feet up and enjoy your new handiwork and healthy space.

If you hire someone to work on your home that was built before 1978, they are required by federal law to be certified and trained in lead-safe work practices. Ask to see a Renovation, Repair and Painting certificate and number from the US Environmental Protection Agency before you hire. A list of certified renovators can be found at http://www.epa.gov/lead

To learn more about keeping your family safe from lead poisoning, visit http://www.maine.gov/healthyhomes

This column was submitted by Beth Pratte, an environmental educator with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.