MONDAY, March 31, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. government has issued new rules designed to protect children from exposure to lead-based paint during repairs and renovations to homes and buildings.
Starting in 2010, construction workers must follow "lead-safe work practice standards" that are designed to reduce potential exposure to dangerous levels of lead while renovating houses, child-care facilities and schools built before 1978, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.
"We are serious about eliminating childhood lead poisoning," James Gulliford, the EPA's assistant administrator for Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said during a Monday teleconference. "Exposure to lead-contaminated dust is the most common way children get lead poisoning," he added.
Exposure to lead, especially for children under 6 years of age, can affect the child's developing nervous system and cause developmental and learning problems. Young children are particularly vulnerable, because they are likely to ingest lead by putting paint chips in their mouth.
Under the "Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Program," which takes effect in April 2010, any work practice that creates lead hazards must be changed to eliminate the risk of exposure to lead dust. The new rule is expected to cost contractors about $35 a job, Gulliford said.
The program covers rental housing and non-rental housing where children under age 6 and pregnant mothers are living. The rule applies to renovations, repair or painting where more than 6 square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed in a room, or where 20 square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed on the exterior.
The rule won't kick in for two years, because the EPA expects it to take that long to develop training programs, train workers and get the states up to speed to implement the new requirements, Gulliford said.
Contractors affected by the rule include builders, painters, plumbers and electricians. According to the rule, the work area must be posted with warning signs to prevent occupants from entering the area. In addition, contractors must prevent dust and debris from spreading, perform a thorough cleanup, and verify that the cleanup was effective.
"Even though lead-based paint was banned in 1978, we're still dealing with it," Gulliford said. "For example, two-thirds of houses and half of the schools and day-care centers built before 1960 have some lead-based paint."
The EPA estimates that almost 38 million U.S. homes still have some lead-based paint.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2002, there were an estimated 300,000 children with elevated blood lead levels, Gulliford said. "That is a great improvement, but it's not good enough. This new rule is an important step toward halting lead poisoning of our nation's children," he said.
To learn more about the health risks posed by lead, visit the EPA.