Got a Lead Paint Problem? Beware of Bad Advice Too

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aaronvandorn/Flickr"Secret shoppers" found hardware stores and painting contractors that downplayed the dangers of lead paint exposure.
Four years after the EPA implemented strict guidelines for lead paint removal from houses built before 1978, an alarming number of hardware stores and painting contractors reportedly are pooh-poohing the dangers of lead paint exposure -- like brain, kidney, digestive and fertility disorders -- and downplaying precautions that contractors should take to keep you safe.

That's what Angie's List's "secret shoppers" found when they asked 200 randomly selected contractors and hardware stores around the country about the best way to strip paint and renovate a child's room in a 1920s house.

Here's some sage advice the shoppers collected.

"It's just a bunch of B.S., really."
"Lead only harms you if you eat it."
"Just close the door and wear a mask."
"The whole lead thing is very overblown unless your kids are chewing or gnawing on the windowsills."

According to Angie's List, nearly 20 percent of contractors and hardware stores gave "poor advice," including dry-scraping old paint or removing it with a heat gun, two no-no's when it comes to removing lead paint.

Hardware stores were the worst offenders, Angie's List says, giving dangerous advice 47 percent of the time.

Any contractor who removes lead paint is supposed to have an EPA certification that shows they understand safety precautions associated with lead paint removal. However, even certified contractors can scrimp on costly precautions that will protect your family and neighbors from lead paint exposure.

"You have to be an educated consumer in this process, and understand the risks of lead paint and how it affects your family," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

So, if your house was built before 1978 (when most paint contained lead) it's a good idea to backstop your contractor by knowing some EPA basics of lead paint removal.

1. Minimize dust by misting surfaces with water before sanding or scraping.
2. Only use sanding and grinding machines with protective shrouds that are attached to a HEPA vacuum.
3. Never use an open flame torch or high temperature heat gun (above 1,100 degrees) to remove lead paint.
4. Cover indoor work areas and 5 feet beyond with protective sheeting.
5. Cover exterior work areas with protective sheeting extending 10 feet from the work surface.
6. Keep children away from work areas.
7. Thoroughly clean work areas after painting.
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