Cleaning up lead paint
November 23, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

My house has lead paint. Today most of the windows were replaced, and the people who installed them were supposed to vacuum up the lead paint chips. I don't think they did. What should I do?

The old window frames were removed basically by smashing them, with most of the wood-and-paint pieces landing outside. The guys who did it (their company also tested for lead paint) said they would vacuum the inside when they were done to clean it up. But when I came home, I saw what looked like some flakes of white paint, not to mention the same dust and bits of paper, etc. that were there before they started.

Two questions:

1. I have no idea how this works, so is it reasonable to assume that these guys didn't vacuum, or didn't do it well enough?

2. How should I clean this up? I could just vaccuum it myself right now, but I've heard that for some toxic materials (e.g. broken mercury lightbulb) you should avoid vacuuming because that just spreads it around and makes it worse.

I hope this isn't a really serious problem, because I have to live here while (and before) it gets cleaned up.
posted by Chicken Boolean to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
 
Do you or any of your neighbors have small children? If so I'd move more quickly than not to have the company come back and remediate the site. You should not be dealing with and/or disposing of the lead paint. Where are you located?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:51 PM on November 23, 2010


You can probably just vacuum it yourself. Lead isn't like mercury, where even a small amount will spread and float up into the air. To get lead poisoning, you need to actually eat some lead, so don't put the paint chips into your mouth – no matter how delicious they look – and if you have a child, keep the room closed off so that the child can't get in there.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:52 PM on November 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Call the installer and insist the job be finished properly. If it was a company contracted by your landlord, contact your landlord.
posted by inturnaround at 2:53 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mercury is liquid at room temperature and partially vaporizes when disturbed, which means that people who disturb mercury end up breathing in a significant dose. Lead oxide, which is the lead compound in paint, doesn't do that. Your only exposure to lead oxide during an old-paint cleanup job will be from paint chip dust. If you make a first pass with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, then wear disposable gloves while doing a damp wipe-over with a disposable rag, you're very unlikely to ingest enough lead-bearing dust to hurt you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:01 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would call and just say "hey, it looks like some of the paint chips got missed, can you get someone to come back over?"

I have dealt with a lot of contractors recently because I bought an old junker of a house and farmed out some of the rehab work, and sometimes stuff gets overlooked, but generally the contractors are really great about coming back to fix errors or do touchups if you communicate to them. These guys work by word of mouth, and need your good will in order to maintain their reputations.
posted by padraigin at 3:08 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do you or any of your neighbors have small children?

No--I don't think anyone's in danger of eating it.

Mercury is liquid at room temperature and partially vaporizes when disturbed, which means that people who disturb mercury end up breathing in a significant dose. Lead oxide, which is the lead compound in paint, doesn't do that.

That answers my main question. I don't know what kind of filter the vacuum has, but it's good to know it won't hurt anything; I'll vacuum it myself.

Call the installer and insist the job be finished properly.

I'm not confident that they actually did anything wrong. It's not like there's a huge pile of paint chips or anything like that--just a few tiny bits. What I'm still wondering is: what's normal for this this kind of job? Is it supposed to be perfectly spotless or is what they did actually satisfactory? I know I could pester them, but I won't if there's no need.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 3:23 PM on November 23, 2010


One note: don't just vacuum with any old vacuum. Lead dust -- from sanding, at least -- can be blown around the room if the filter doesn't catch it. Considering they smashed instead of sanding, it should be fine, but call them first and let them know you'd like them to come back out as you're seeing some paint chips and dust. It's not an unreasonable request.
posted by davejay at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2010


Here's a link to the NY Department of Health's advice on lead paint removal. Scroll down to "daily clean up." Note that the instructions are for lead paint removal, and so are a bit of overkill for your situation. Paint removal would create massive amounts of dust, you've got a small amount of dust and debris left over from the removal of windows that had lead paint on them.

I think you're probably OK just vacuuming it. But if you want to be extra-cautious, follow their instructions:

the debris should be misted with water, swept up and placed in double 4-mil or 6- mil plastic bags. Then all surfaces should be wet-dusted and wet-mopped.

or what flabdablet said.

I don't think you're at any real risk. Nevertheless, it was extremely unprofessional of the contractor not to clean up after themselves, especially considering that you're living in the house.
posted by nangar at 3:46 PM on November 23, 2010


One note: don't just vacuum with any old vacuum.

Oops, too late. I already did part of it. I only have one vacuum anyway. I think I'll go over it with a mop as well, and hope for the best.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2010


The new EPA regulations are pretty strict with regards to home improvement contractors and lead paint. You have a lot of leverage to get them back to do the job right. Call them and let them know your next call will be to your local contractor licensing board if they don't send someone out.
posted by electroboy at 4:26 PM on November 23, 2010


A little lead dust isn't going to kill you. It fucks up developing children over the long run. I mean, the Romans used lead in all their plumbing (which is why the atomic symbol for lead is Pb) and they conquered the known world.
posted by notsnot at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2010


notsnot writes "I mean, the Romans used lead in all their plumbing (which is why the atomic symbol for lead is Pb) and they conquered the known world."

It's not just the Romans. If your house has lead paint then, unless it's old enough to be all galvanized, your copper pipes were probably soldered together with lead (mixed with other stuff). And even brand new homes which will have used a lead free soldier usually have some brass plumbing fixtures which contain, you guessed it, lead. And brass labelled lead free can leach up to 11 ppm of lead so not quite the lay man understanding of foo free.
posted by Mitheral at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2010


The magic word (if you want to "do it right" and not have to screw with the contractor) is HEPA filtered vacuum. (There may be HEPA level bags for the vacuum you have.)

Depending on what your floors are like, sweep, don't vacuum. It stirs up less dust and dust, not chunks, is what you have to worry about here.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:24 PM on November 23, 2010


What I'm still wondering is: what's normal for this this kind of job? Is it supposed to be perfectly spotless or is what they did actually satisfactory?

I used to work in construction and did remodel jobs. Anywhere I worked the standard was pretty much spotless. Like I said, I don't think you're at any risk, but it pisses me off that you, the homeowner or renter, are worried about this because of inadequate clean-up. That's our job; you shouldn't have to worry about this.

Oops, too late. I already did part of it. I only have one vacuum anyway. I think I'll go over it with a mop as well, and hope for the best.

Don't worry too much. HEPA filters are meant to catch fine particles like those that would be generated by sanding. That's not an issue here, and you're only dealing with small amounts. Damp mopping or wiping is meant to keep the dust down. Your only risk would come from inhaling dust that contained lead oxide, and it would take cumulative exposure to do you any harm.
posted by nangar at 5:35 PM on November 23, 2010


OK, I vacuumed with a regular vacuum (which didn't seem to pick it up very well) and wiped it with a wet mop. There are no visible paint pieces left, so I guess it's done.

It would probably be ideal to leave it alone and get the company to send someone to clean it up, but since I have to live here (and I have to move all the furniture back), I figured I should just clean it up myself.

Thanks for your help, everyone.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 5:43 PM on November 23, 2010


brass labelled lead free can leach up to 11 ppm of lead

The link says billion, not million. The national action standard is 15 parts per billion.
posted by electroboy at 6:35 PM on November 23, 2010


For anyone else checking this: New EPA regulations for Renovation, Repair, and Painting require best-practices lead risk management by an RRP certified firm as of April, 2010. That's nationwide in the United States of America. Note: Some individual states and cities have MORE STRICT rules about lead RRP practices -- the EPA stuff is just the basic level required everywhere. Your local standards may be stricter than this.

Here's the EPA site: http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm

Basically, your contractor should do at least the following:

1. INFORM you about lead hazards before starting work. There's a pamphlet they should give you and get you to sign that you got it.

2. CONTAIN work area (tarps, signage, vertical barriers, etc. as appropriate) before beginning work.

3. PERFORM WORK and AVOID prohibited practices (eg. using a torch to flame off old paint).

4. CLEAN the job site when work is finished. HEPA vacuum. Bag or wrap waste in plastic and remove from site. If using contractor bags, apply gooseneck taped seals.

5. VERIFY that cleaning is complete. (Hint: visible paint chips mean cleaning IS NOT complete.)

6. DOCUMENT their RRP practices compliance and maintain records of same for 3 year retention.

Failure of a firm to comply with the EPA regs can result in a fine of up to $32,500 per violation.

(I am a Certified Renovator according to the EPA's rules for same.)
posted by which_chick at 7:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can probably just vacuum it yourself. Lead isn't like mercury, where even a small amount will spread and float up into the air. To get lead poisoning, you need to actually eat some lead, so don't put the paint chips into your mouth – no matter how delicious they look – and if you have a child, keep the room closed off so that the child can't get in there.

That is true for intact paint, on the walls, undisturbed. Vacuuming it up will kick up some dust and that is indeed dangerous. Maybe not very dangerous, but you can certainly get exposure via air particles.

Electroboy is right- the new EPA regulations for lead abatement/removal are very strict. It is basically the same as they use for asbestos, but without the requirement that the debris be tagged and tracked.

Don't eat anything that grows in the soil near or downstream of the windows...
posted by gjc at 7:41 PM on November 23, 2010


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