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Testing for Lead Paint Before Renovating Common Areas: Some Options

Frank Lovece in Board Operations on July 19, 2012

New York City

Testing for Lead Paint Before Renovating Common Areas
July 19, 2012

At least one environmental consultant falls squarely in the middle. "I'm not of the alarmist view that 'You have to have a consultant!'" says Jennifer Carey, principal of JLC Environmental Consultants. "There's nothing to stop [a board] from testing on their own as long as they use a lead-test kit approved" by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and you have an EPA-certified professional perform the actual test.

Three Tests to Choose From

The EPA recognizes three commercially available do-it-yourself kits: ESCA-Tech's D-Lead Lead Paint Test Kit, which retails in the $75-$85 range; 3M's LeadCheck Swabs, with a pack of eight retailing for about $25; and the State of Massachusetts lead test kit, which can be used nationwide "but cannot be used on wood or iron surfaces, such as fire escapes," Carey says. As well, W. M. Barr & Company markets ESCA-Tech kit under the private-label name Klean-Strip D-Lead Paint Test Kit, which can retail in the $35-$38 range.

What happens if you don't use an off-the-shelf kit, and opt to have your designer or environmental consultant call in a specialist to do the test?

"An EPA-certified inspector comes in with [a handheld] X-ray fluorescent detector — an XRF," Carey says. "If it tests negative, you don't have to do anything; if it's positive, you have to [have your EPA-certified contractor] follow lead-safe-work practices. Sometimes if you have a negative XRF, we recommend a confirmation paint-chip test, [which involves taking] a one-inch-by-one-inch chip, and then you need a bigger chip if the wall's been painted over many, many times. You have to get down to the substrate, whether plaster or sheet rock. We take the paint chip samples back to the lab and analyze them."

Much has been written, in Habitat and elsewhere, about what happens after lead has been found. "The EPA protocols must be followed," says Marino. "There are no shortcuts."

"If an occupant says, ‘You guys have been scraping metal all over the outside of the building and I've got this dust all over. Did anybody test for lead?,' the answer should be, ‘Yes, we did,'" says Gene Ferrara, president of the engineering firm JMA Consultants. "And, ‘Not only did we test, we found that there was no lead,' or, ‘There is lead, and we're taking the proper precautions.'

"Otherwise," he says, "the person's next question will be, ‘What's your name, so I can give it to my lawyer?'" 


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