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Don't Poison the Kids: New Rules for Home Renovators

contractors-lead-paintIn just a week, contractors doing renovations on homes built before 1978 will be required to be certified to work around lead paint. In addition to classes, these contractors — once just fine wearing shorts and T-shirts to install your new windows — will have to wear wacky looking Tyvek coveralls (see pic), goggles and respirators, hoods, rubber gloves and boots.

According to a story on NPR, they also have to lay plastic sheeting, put up caution tape (oh, how the kids will rejoice!) and hang signs that say “Lead Poison Hazard: Do Not Enter.” (Keeping the leftover caution tape will probably also be verboten. Bummer!)

These new rules were adopted in 2008, but home industry leaders are worried since only 5 percent nationwide have bothered to get certified. There’s little sympathy for them, though, since these rules were adopted to keep lead from getting into their growing bodies (and brains).

We’ll let the pros work all of the certification and rubber boots issues out. But here’s, I think, a bigger issue. Those of us living in fixer-uppers. And doing the work ourselves.

The industry may have known about Tyvek suits and respirators, but what about you, you DIY home renovation God. Did you know to lay plastic sheeting? Are you washing your filthy, caulk crusted T-shirt with the baby’s onesies? (Love how you raised the ceiling. The place feels so open!)

So while contractor organizations are lobbying the EPA to give them more time to stockpile caution tape and get certified, families living in fixer-uppers with young children should also have a quick class with Prof. Google and make sure they’re not creating a lead hazard for their kids.

Eight years ago, my husband and I learned the hard and kind of humiliating way (a visit from a social worker following our daughter’s routine blood screening at age 1) that it wasn’t just lead paint chips we needed to worry about when fixing up our Philadelphia row home. Rather, lead dust. It’s everywhere in old homes. Everywhere! Anytime you poke a hole in the wall or ceiling, it’s getting released. The only way to clean it up is by wiping anything that got lead-dusted with a TSP and water solution. It was all a huge pain but the ceiling looked nice and our daughter’s lead levels notched back down to zero.

And! I got to look like a genius a few years later in another city when I suggested to a mom that her son’s incessant nose bleeds might signal lead-poisoning (she often spoke of the whole walls they were tearing down for a new  kitchen). In fact, the boy was swimming in lead.

So while these new regulations look nanny-state, they’re probably long overdue. I just hope they come with some PSAs for the weekend renovators.

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Photo: NPR.org

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