Good conversations on lead paint

Update: Preservation Greensboro’s Director Benjamin Briggs provides the latest federal guidelines on lead paint vs historic structures and says, “Our local initiatives can come together on this issue. The Guilford County Department of Public Health is trailblazing in its initiatives, but let’s see that these ordinances not be at the unnecessary loss of Greensboro’s cultural and historic treasures.

In the comments to my recent N&R column regarding the conflict between lead paint abatement efforts and historic preservation, Tobin Shepard, Guilford County’s program director for Environmental Health, has weighed in.  And I appreciate it.  But he seems to be missing my point.

Also in the comments is a very thoughtful rebuttal from a potter down in Seagrove who, rightly, has taken me to task about my mention of lead in ceramic glazing in the column. Says Merideth Haywood of Whynot Pottery

“We spend a lot of time dispelling the myth that all glazes have lead in them. This is a statement which could have a direct impact on our sales in Seagrove.

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  1. H. R. Pufnstuf
    Posted December 7, 2007 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    There’s a difference between the mere presence of LBP (back in a home’s paint history) and a LBP hazard. HUD and EPA have very clear guidelines as to what a hazard is. It depends upon the paint conditions (chipping, peeling, chalking, etc.) and the surface area affected. LBP in stable condition is not considered a hazard. When it begins to deteriorate, it becomes a serious health issue especially for children who ingest the fine dust. (Chewing a window is not necessary to have an elevated blood lead level.) If homeowners and landlords maintain paint conditions, you generally have nothing to worry about. Perhaps your neighbor might have let maintenance go for a little bit.

  2. H. R. Pufnstuf
    Posted December 7, 2007 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Another point to consider…

    There are various options available when remediating for lead hazards. Those options range from full abatement (more costly, but more permanent) to interim controls (cheaper, but need ongoing maintenance in order to last). The county ordinance makes these options available to your neighbor. In your defense, you might not have been aware of that.

    If we’re going to have a discussion about public policy (lead as just one example), it’s important for everyone — from elected officials to administrators to bloggers — to speak using the same lexicon. Otherwise, we’re producing more heat than light.

  3. Posted December 8, 2007 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Puf…

    What generally occurs – and occured in my friend’s case – is that inspectors bring in a device that detects lead (spectrometer?) If the device is directed at an individual surface and it reads “hot”, then the surface is slated for “remediation”. No flaking or peeling required.

    Example: One of the areas in my friend’s house that was identified as in need of remediation was the living room mantle. I looked at the mantel and saw no peeling or chipping paint. Why do you suppose this was included in the required plan?


    I know of instances where a landlord applied for HUD money for remediation (Lead Safe Program?). He had his windows (frames, moldings, sash) chemically stripped of all paint. Before painting and reinstalling them, the lead detectors shot the bare wood and it still read “hot”.

    He explained that three coats of paint were going to be applied to all surfaces before installation. Didn’t matter… to receive the lead money, he had to replace the windows and was not allowed to use the original, historic (1920′s) windows.

    Your approach and tone sounds both reasonable and knowledgable. But when the governnment’s lead regulations actually get translated to what occurs in the field, reason seems to take a hike.

  4. H. R. Pufnstuf
    Posted December 8, 2007 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Good morning, David. Without knowing the specifics, I can’t accurately comment on these cases, but I’ll make a couple of points.

    After inspectors shoot with the XRF gun, they will also take dust wipe samples of various surfaces. It’s possible that — while the paint condition looked intact — there was some dusting occurring. Lead dust can be very subtle sometimes and difficult to see with the eye. In both privately and federally-funded lead work, if the inspector calls for remediation on a specific surface, there’s usually very good reason for it. That might not be obvious without explanation to the homeowner.

    As a general rule, the use of existing windows is acceptable if it meets certain standards. However, even after stripping, lead could have leached into the wood itself. When repainted, that lead can then resurface into new paint and create a new hazard over time. Strange, but true. As an alternative, you can sometimes replace the sash and keep the casing if it has historic significance. By the way, federally-funded lead work must have a Section 106 historic review before work begins. The purpose of that review is to do exactly what you mentioned earlier: strike a good balance between the lead remediation work and historic considerations. When talking about public funds, you have to balance (1) cost, (2) effectiveness of the remediation methods, and (3) historic regulations. They all have equal footing.

    Have a good weekend.