The Journal of Light Construction’s Tom O’Brien identifies ways that remodelers can protect themselves from the detrimental effects of lead exposure. Lead can get into the body either through ingestion or inhalation, causing serious brain development problems for young children who are exposed. On remodeling and construction sites, inhalation is the main cause of how workers can be at risk of lead exposure. The manager of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center’s Healthy Homes Program says that “Dust in the air is responsible for most of the instances of adult lead poisoning.”

As O’Brien writes in JLC,

"An open flame or a high-temperature (+1,100°F) heat gun is the most dangerous method of paint removal because it creates lead fumes, which are not gases, but tiny dust particles (less than 1 micron) that are small enough to penetrate into the deepest recesses of the lungs where they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

Sanding, scraping, and grinding produce larger dust particles that aren’t as easily sucked deep into the lungs and are more likely to be trapped by the cilia and coughed up. But if you inhale enough of it, some of this dust will get into the bloodstream, and some of what’s coughed up will get a second chance if it’s swallowed.”

It is recommended that those who are exposed to lead get their blood tested every six months to determine if they have a chronic lead problem. So how can you prevent lead exposure to you and your workers? According to O’Brien, the “single best thing you can do to protect yourself and your workers it to minimize airborne dust."

O’Brien lists six proven solutions to minimizing lead exposure to you and your workers:

  • Mist surfaces with water before disturbing the paint layer.
  • Use a sharp knife to separate paint joints before removing trim elements.
  • Regularly HEPA-vac the floors so you don’t crush paint chips and create more dust.
  • Never use open flames or high-temperature heat guns to strip paint.
  • Use only power tools that have effective, vacuum-operated, dust-collection systems (see photo above).
  • Consider purchasing a negative air machine to capture airborne dust (see photo below); don’t put a fan in the window that might blow lead dust all over the neighborhood.

To learn more about the harmful effects of lead exposure and what you can do to protect you and your workers, click below.

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