Lead Paint Testing Professional Answers Frequently Asked Questions

Bill O’Donnel is the owner of Bayhill Environmental and is licensed in lead testing and lead exposure risk assessment in the State of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Here, he is answering several frequently asked questions which may be helpful to those concerned with the home environment, an investment property and with commercial property in order to not only preserve life and helth but also to be in compliance with any prevailing laws. (The new Philadelphia landlord’s law in Philadelphia for example)

Question: I see online, a person can buy a lead testing kit from Home Depot. Are they reliable and can you get lead-safe or lead-free certification from using such a testing kit?

Answer:  Testing for lead requires a thorough sampling of walls, doors, door jambs, windows and window sills in every room.  An X-Ray Fluorescence gun (XRF) bombards building surfaces with high-energy x-rays which is the only trustworthy proof of the presence, or conclusive proof of non-presence of lead content in paint.  It is the only method by which certification can be obtained.  I wouldn’t want to trust the health and safety of my family to a cheap testing kit when a true test with an XRF gun is only a few hundred dollars.

Question: These lead paint testing kits say “EPA Approved”. Does that mean the test is conclusive for lead-free or lead-safe certification?

Answer: No. These tests are not thorough enough to provide lead-safe or lead-free certification.  Our test is done in 2 processes. One with the XRF gun and the other with dust wipes which are very much like baby wipes.  These wipes collect surface particulates from most every surface of the home: walls, baseboards, window sills, and are sent to a lab for evaluation.

Question: How does lead dust occur?

Answer: The danger in lead exposure isn’t necessarily the paint on the walls but rather in dust created by disintegrating paint.  The existence of lead in paint is not necessarily dangerous.  The danger occurs when the paint breaks down.  This often occurs during renovation.  When windows or doors are removed, when surfaces are repainted and the surfaces sanded during the paint preparation process, for example.

Lead dust is invisible.  It clings to skin and clothing and the damage is done from ingesting the dust through inhalation and accidental oral consumption.

Question: Is lead paint testing required by law in the sate of Pennsylvania?

Answer: The only place lead testing is required in the state of Pennsylvania is in Philadelphia.  The city of Philadelphia has recently put in a new law to protect children from lead exposure.  In rented properties within the city of Philadelphia where children age 6 or under are living (or could be living), a lead-safe or lead-free certification must be registered with the City.

Question: Which properties are most likely to contain the presence of lead?

Answer: Properties built in the early 1900’s especially up into the 1920’s probably have lead-based paint in them somewhere.  Occasionally we find the old paint has been removed during a previous rehab but often the lead paint has been repainted over with new paint.  We often find lead content in exterior paint in garages, garage doors, windows and exterior wood surfaces.

Question: Is exterior lead paint a health hazard to the occupants of the home as it can be with interior paint?

Answer: Rain and weather bombard the outside of the home and this will cause lead in the water to drip into the soil surrounding the property. This can be dangerous particularly of garden vegetables are grown in this soil as the lead will leach up into the plant and the vegetables.

Question: Do you test for lead content in soil as well?

Answer: Yes, we do. If we suspect the exterior of the property contains lead paint, we often advise a soil test.

Question: Will newer, fresh coats of paint hide the existence of lead based paint?

Answer: No. The XRF gun will detect the presence of lead all the way down to the wood (original surface).  There is no danger in coating lead-based paint with fresh paint as long as the old paint is in good condition.

Question: Besides paint, is are there any other sources of lead in a home which could be cause for concern of lead exposure?

Answer: We have found the presence of lead in children’s toys, bowls and china.  These are definitely cause for concern as toys are often put to mouth by children and kitchenware will be in contact with food.

Question: Do you find lead paint on old or antique furniture?

Answer: Sometimes we do. And it’s usually not a problem. However, it’s not uncommon to want to refinish a nice piece of old furniture and that can get you into trouble. Sanding the lead based paint will create dangerous lead dust.  ANY painted surface made prior to 1978 could potentially contain lead.