More Lead Paint Concerns

Scott Gibson

I own a home from the '40s and have a concern about lead paint. The house has a hot water heating system with cast radiators. My house was tested for lead, and it was found in a few areas in small amounts. Nothing to be alarmed about. My concern is in the old radiators. When the heat comes on and the radiators heat up, would lead paint release any harmful vapors? I have two small children.

You're wise to be concerned about the potential hazards of lead, especially with small children at home.

Lead-based paint wasn't banned until 1978, so you can bet that plenty of it was used in your home over the years. Lead is a lingering hazard in many older buildings in the form of contaminated dust, paint chips from trim (and, one supposes, cast iron radiators) and even in the soil around the house where exterior paint was scraped or sanded away.

But the temperature of your radiators is too low to contribute to the problem via off-gassing or vaporization.

Lead melts at about 621 degrees F. and, according to the EPA's lead information hot line (800-424-5323), begins to vaporize above 1100 degrees F. Water temperatures in a residential hydronic heating system are in the 200-degree range, so you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

But other activities could pose risks. For example, using a propane torch to soften and strip leaded paint would easily raise the temperature to the point where lead could vaporize. Some hobbies involve handling, heating and melting lead.

Even though it's been more than 30 years since lead-based paint was removed from the market, lead poisoning remains a continuing concern.

The EPA says lead poisoning affects more than 1 million children each year. Lead causes many ugly and chronic health problems, including learning disabilities and speech and behavioral problems.

If undisturbed, lead-based paint probably isn't a threat. But when it is sanded, chipped, or abraded it becomes a hazard. This potential is what's behind a new rule from the EPA that requires contractors working in homes, schools or child care facilities built before 1978 to be certified in jobsite techniques designed to prevent lead contamination.

Anyone whose work has the potential to disturb lead paint has to take the eight-hour course, and be re-certified every five years.

It's an added burden for builders and renovators, and some of them will probably ignore it despite the risk of fines. Ultimately, though, consumers like you are in the driver's seat. If you have work done in or on your home, make sure the contractor is certified by the EPA. Ask to see the paperwork. After all, the regulation was devised for your benefit.

There's a lot more information about lead and the new lead-safe certification program at the EPA's website (go to www.epa.gov/lead), including a searchable list of certified renovation firms.



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