Before undertaking any project involving paint removal, applicable
State and Federal laws on lead paint abatement and disposal
must be taken into account and carefully followed. State and
Federal requirements may affect options available to owners
on both paint removal and repainting. These laws, as well
as any requirements prohibiting volatile organic compounds
(VOCs), should be requested from the State Historic Preservation
Officer in each State.
Below is a summary of the health hazards that owners, managers,
and workers need to be aware of before removing paint and
In virtually all paints made before 1950 , the white
or "hiding" pigment was a lead compound, or more
rarely, zinc oxide. Work to remove lead paint such as scraping
and dry sanding releases the lead--a highly damaging heavy
metal — in dust. Lead dust then enters the human system
through pores of the skin and through the lungs. The use
of heat for stripping also creates toxic lead fumes which
can be inhaled.
To mitigate the hazards of lead paint ingestion, inhalation,
or contact, it is extremely important to prevent the dust
from circulating by masking room openings and removing all
curtains, carpeting, and upholstered furniture.
Drop cloths and masking containing lead dust should be
carefully enclosed in tight plastic bags before removal.
Workers and others in the room should wear High Efficiency
Particulate Air (HEPA) filters for lead dust (fume filters
if heat stripping is being used), change clothing just outside
the room leaving the work clothes inside, and avoid any
contact between bare skin (hands) and the paint being removed.
Workers should also not eat, drink, or smoke where lead
dust is present.
Finally, anyone involved in lead paint removal should undergo
periodic blood testing.
After work, ordinary vacuuming is not enough to remove
lead dust; special HEPA vacuums are essential.
The surfaces of the room must also be given a final wash
with a solution of trisodium phosphate and water, changing
the washing solution often and rinsing well.
In addition to lead, early oil paints also had cobalt or
other heavy metal compounds in them to accelerate drying.
A small amount of mercury is also included in some latex
paints to help prevent mildew and mold formation.
Organic paint strippers, such as methylene chloride, and
oil/alkyd paints have VOCs as their solvent base. Inhaling
these fumes can lead to respiratory and other illnesses,
and to cancer.
Especially in closed spaces (but in the outdoor environment
as well) these compounds pollute the air and can damage