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We now know that lead exposure can damage the cardiovascular and central nervous systems and can be harmful in children’s development. So why does the toxic metal continue to be used in a variety of products? More to the point, what are some ways to help protect people and the environment from exposure?

The element's resistance to weathering and corrosion have been well known for centuries. The English word "plumbing" stems from the widespread use of the element known in Latin as "plumbum" (more widely known today by the chemical symbol "Pb") in pipes.

It's known that work such as sanding, cutting and demolition can produce hazardous chips and dust by disturbing lead-based paint. Yet, lead continues to be used in yellow highway paints, in paint primers for steel bridges and in the shipbuilding industry.

Prior to the 1960s (and up through the late 1970s), paint used in homes was most often lead based. Lead oxide was used as a pigment, while lead naphthenate was used in small concentrations due to its anti-bacterial and anti-mold properties.
In the 1990s, the EPA established lead-based paint regulations after it was determined that millions of people had been exposed to lead poisoning from paint peeling from walls. The most common ways for lead to enter the body are through inhaling it as a dust or fume or ingesting it accidentally. Once inside, lead can circulate and be deposited throughout the body, making it a cumulative and persistent toxic substance.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulates many aspects of lead exposure in the residential environment. Young children are especially vulnerable since they tend to place things into their mouth. More information can be found at:

What it all boils down to is the fact that as materials that contain lead age, exposure will continue to be a human and environmental health concern. For that reason, lead abatement means that lead-containing materials and structures need to stay in good repair and that any work to them or their surroundings should be planned carefully.

Important initial steps in mitigating the health risks from lead hazards are to identify its presence and to determine exposure risks to people and to the environment.

Mitigating lead hazards can be achieved in four basic ways:
-Replacing part of an asset coated in lead-based paint with a part that is not.
-Enclosing a part or surface covered in lead-based paint with a solid barrier.
-Encapsulating a part or surface covered in lead-based paint to make it inaccessible
-Removing the lead-based paint.

Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have established rules to keep employees safe from lead hazards at work.

OSHA in 1978 established a separate standard addressing Occupational Exposure to Lead (29 CFR 1910.1025) that includes a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for employees who work in general and maritime industries. The OSHA General Industry Standard sets 50 micrograms per cubic meter as the 8-hour time-weighted average concentration of lead in air. This is the maximum concentration to which a worker can be exposed, on a daily basis, over a working lifetime to prevent material impairment of his/her health or functional capacity. The standard also includes an action level of 30 micrograms per cubic meter, which triggers requirements for employers with regard to monitoring lead levels and providing for medical evaluation and treatment for employees if various thresholds are exceeded. A separate standard that applies to the construction industry (29 CFR 1926.62) was published in 1995 and specified the same PEL and action level.

In effect since 2010, the EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting Program sets standards for employers if their employees' work involves disturbing paint in residential, educational, or child care settings built before 1978, when the use of lead-based paint in such buildings was banned. According to those rules, workers must be trained and certified in lead-safe work practices.

The agency publishes a handbook (available at for businesses to determine whether the program applies to them.

There are two methods the EPA recognizes for testing paint: X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analysis and paint chip sampling with an analysis by an accredited laboratory. At Workplace Safety & Health Co., in addition to using these test methods, we also use AutoCAD™ drawings and photographs in our survey reports to show the location and appearance of each surface coating we analyze. So before starting in on that next renovation or construction project that you suspect might lead to exposure to lead, call us first and be sure -- and safe.


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