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Renovation and Remodeling in Schools:
You May Disturb Lead-Based Paint


Are you planning renovation and remodeling activities in the near future?

Was your school building constructed prior to 1978?

Do you plan to use either in-house maintenance staff or a general contractor to perform the work?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you may be putting your students and employees at risk of lead poisoning.

In 1978, the use of lead-based paint in United States housing was banned due to the significant health problems caused by lead including adverse effects on the central nervous system, kidneys, and blood formation system. It is also associated with decreased intelligence and impaired neurobehavioral development in children. Although children under six years of age are especially at risk for lead poisoning, adults can be poisoned as well. Renovation and remodeling activities in schools constructed prior to 1978 may create lead contaminated dust and fumes which may enter the body by ingestion or inhalation. Ingestion of lead contaminated dust is the primary way children get lead poisoned.

Renovation and remodeling activities that involve cutting, scraping, drilling, sawing, sanding, patching, and tearing down walls may disturb painted surfaces that contain lead. Replacement of windows is a special concern since they are seldom removed and tend to have numerous coats of paint. Recent research has shown that following window replacement, the amount of lead debris deposited on floors may be up to 400 times higher than acceptable levels. Even performing work on plumbing, electrical, and heating and ventilation systems may potentially disturb lead. Work on painted exteriors of a building can produce lead dust and paint chips that may contaminate the soil and be easily tracked into the building.

Prior to beginning any renovation and remodeling projects, it is recommended that a certified lead evaluation professional be hired to test for the presence of lead-based paint in any area which may be affected during the renovation. These professionals can provide recommendations that will protect building occupants and the environment from potential hazards. In some instances, based upon factors such as the age of students, building occupancy, and the extent of the renovation, it may be recommended that the work be treated as a lead abatement project.

If a professional is not hired to inspect and assess all painted surfaces, it is prudent to assume that these surfaces contain lead.  Any surfaces which are known or suspected to contain lead should be treated as follows:

  • When renovation and remodeling is scheduled, all non-workers, especially children and pregnant women, should be kept out of the work area until the work and clean-up are complete.
  • A contractor licensed by the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to conduct lead-related activities should be hired to abate the lead prior to commencement of renovation/remodeling activities.  For information on how to contact the DCA for a list of lead contractors or other contractor information, refer to the Indoor Environments Contacts page.
  • All of the contractor's employees who conduct lead-related activities, must possess a valid lead permit issued by the NJ Department of Health (DOH) .  For more information pertaining to the permitting of these individuals, please refer to the Indoor Environments Contacts page.
  • Contractors must adhere to all applicable federal and state worker protection requirements. The same precautions should be taken by in-house staff even when performing smaller projects.
  • Certain renovation activities require isolation of the work area.  Refer to the Indoor Air Quality Standard (N.J.A.C. 12:100-13) for public schools, to ensure that all proper steps are taken to isolate the work area.
  • Forced-air heating and air conditioning systems can spread lead-contaminated dust throughout a building.  Therefore, it is important to shut down these systems and seal intake and exhaust ducts in the work area before work begins.
  • Certain work practices such as dry scraping, machine sanding, open flame burning, or using a heat gun are extremely dangerous and should be avoided.
  • Work practices that either minimize dust and/or collect the dust generated are available. Simple, yet effective clean-up methodologies that include high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuuming and the wet-wiping of surfaces should be utilized.

Once renovation and remodeling activities are complete and cleaning has been performed, it is recommended that dust wipe samples be collected by a certified lead evaluation professional to ensure that the work area is safe for re-occupancy. These samples should be analyzed by a competent laboratory.

For information on how to contact the DOH or other organizations mentioned in this article, please refer to the Indoor Environments Contacts or the Related Lead Links pages.

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P. O. Box 360, Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
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Last Modified: Friday, 13-Jul-12 12:11:21