Published in the ECHO Journal, May 2010

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead also can be emitted into the air from motor vehicles and industrial sources, and lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk. The most common sources of lead poisoning are:

  • Deteriorating lead-based paint
  • Lead contaminated dust
  • Lead contaminated residential soil

Paint, varnish or any other coating that contains more than 0.5 percent lead by weight or more than 1.0 milligram of lead per square centimeter is called lead-based paint. When lead-based paint is in a condition that makes it an imminent health threat, it is a lead-based paint hazard.

Federal law defines a lead-based hazard as any of the following: lead-contaminated household dust; lead-contaminated bare soil; deteriorating lead-based paint; lead-based paint on friction surfaces such as windows; lead-based paint on impact surfaces such as doors; and lead-based paint on chewable surfaces such as the interior edge of a window sill.

What does this mean to you, the homeowner association board or manager? If you aren’t sure whether or not you have a potential lead-based paint issue, the first step is to have the paint material tested. There are the box-store home “swab” tests that are available (the EPA is evaluating the effectiveness of lead test kits by asking vendors to submit test kits for review to ensure fewer false negatives), or you can pull a sample and take it to a lab If a more detailed analysis is required, an environmental hygienist can help you determine the extent and levels of the lead-based paint in question.

If you are embarking on any sort of renovation or are doing any repairs, you need to consider a few things. First of all, ask yourself what type of materials will be impacted by this work (i.e., casings, walls, windows, frames, sashes, sills, doors, thresholds and any other painted surfaces such as floors or concrete. Second, is the actual removal of material in question going to create a hazardous situation (refer to definition above)? In some situations you can simply having the material in question encapsulated by painting it with primer or non-lead paint.

Finally, how do you know when to hire a professional to have the material abated? In most situations where there are residents present, abatement should be handled by a professional abatement company. A lead-abatement contractor certified by the California Department of Health Services (DHS) will notify OSHA, erect the proper containments, use the proper removal equipment under the required conditions and properly dispose of the lead-based paint material. This insures the safety of building residents as well as a safe working environment for the workers performing the renovation/repairs; it also ensures that the public’s welfare is being addressed.

Abatement methods can involve wet scrape, chemical, heat and mechanical removal. After the abatement, use of an independent laboratory to sample the containment area and insure that the existing air and surfaces are at or below the safe level guidelines is highly desirable. After removal, your DHS contractor will have the lead-based paint material profiled so that it can be dispatched to the proper disposal facility. All hazardous material is tracked with a government-issued manifest that notates the name and address of the generator (i.e., the association), the abatement contractor, the amount of material removed and to which disposal facility it was taken. Non-compliance of lead-based paint removal requirements is subject to fines for the association and/or contractor. OSHA determines those fines based on the severity, intent and negligence of the work scope.

Since April 10, 2010, lead removal is controlled under federal law. This means is that the “Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program” rule, which prohibits work practices that create lead hazards, will now include implementing lead-safe work practices along with certification and training for paid professionals working in pre-1978 housing, child care facilities and schools. The EPA has been conducting an extensive education and outreach campaign to promote awareness of these new requirements. Since the April effective date, lead essentially must be treated like asbestos in every case where those standards fit. For more information, you can go to: or you may call the EPA at: 1-800-424-LEAD.

By Kim MacFarlane.