Recommendations for lead testing labs needed
February 25, 2013 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I need to test several pieces of furniture and some toys for lead paint, and want to have a lab confirm the home tests I plan to run. I need recommendations for reliable (and hopefully affordable, too) options.
posted by ryanshepard to Home & Garden (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I work in the environmental industry and have hired subcontractors and labs to do this kind of work (including some toy sampling, although that pre-dated the new CPSC regs on toys). A few thoughts:

1) Lead-check swabs are not designed for sampling to the extremely low levels of lead considered safe in paint on toys. If your plan involves using lead check swabs to check for lead in toys, I would reconsider. (Also note that the HUD standard for lead in home paint is MUCH higher than the CPSC standard for lead in toys. The lead-check swab was designed for home paint sampling, not toy sampling. Manufacturers are marketing them for toys, but IMO they shouldn't be.)

2) Labs may need to damage or destroy all or part of the item to test it -- definitely something to consider. (A couple of the toys I sent had to be digested entirely, because the painted surfaces were very small.) At the very least, you would need to remove a chip of paint to send to the lab. Do not send an environmental lab anything that is irreplaceable.

3) Some toys have lead in paint, and some have lead in the substrate the paint is on (fabric, plastic, vinyl, whatever). Sending a chip of the paint to the lab will not identify lead in the substrate.

If you have a large number of items to sample, I would suggest hiring someone with an XRF unit to come to your home and do the sampling. (If you're familiar with a moisture meter, the XRF looks similar and is also used by touching two contact points to the surface and waiting for a reading. They go quickly -- like 30s per reading -- and the results are available instantly.) The XRF unit will do minimal damage and is generally reliable; it also will generally pick up on lead in the substrate as well as the paint. The people doing the sampling will calibrate the unit with calibration chips that they bring with them.

To find someone who can do this, google "xrf lead [name of your town]" -- there should be a few local lead-paint professionals who sample pre-1978 housing for lead paint. You want the company that actually owns an XRF in house. Once you find a couple, call them up and ask what the rates would be for coming out to your home to look at items for a couple hours. Also ask if their XRF unit goes down to the levels considered safe for toys -- some of them do.

If your living space is pre-1978, you could also ask if they could sample for lead in the house or apartment while they're out there.

It is possible to rent an XRF from an environmental rental firm, but it's expensive (~$500/day in my area) and non-obvious to use, and some jurisdictions may even require permitting -- I suspect it would be both easier and cheaper to hire the person who comes with it, especially as you only need a couple hours of their time. It may be possible to cut down on costs if you can find a few parents you know who also want to sample heirloom toys etc. for lead content.
posted by pie ninja at 8:00 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

An X-ray fluorometer is certainly the way to go for a rapid, non-destructive test. I have used a portable XRF unit as a preliminary screening test for a rapid detection protocol for a few years.

I would not rent, unless you've used one before. XRFs are non-obvious to use and calibration can be tricky---it's substrate dependent. Machines can also be finicky about temperature.

Incidentally, the x-rays will penetrate about 1-3 mm into the surface, depending on the unit. Some will see through the paint, some will not. It depends on the lamp/source intensity. It's worth asking the question of the operator if their unit will look at just the paint or the plastic underneath as well. It's also worth asking if they can reliably determine the regulated level in your toys. In general, you want the method detection limit (MDL) to be 5 times lower than the limit you want to measure. Ten times is even better.
posted by bonehead at 3:00 PM on February 25, 2013

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