Arrghhhhh, lead paint on plaster walls

girlndocsMarch 25, 2010

I posted before about my painted-over wallpaper that's falling off the walls in the house I rent. Long story short, one of the layers of paint under there has lead, and since it cannot possibly be painted over to encapsulate it, the whole schmear has to come off.

I talked today with a rep from a lead abatement company because my landlord is dragging her heels on getting it fixed and under my state laws I can have it done and then deduct the cost from my rent. I'm left a little skeptical of some of the things he said. He told me that they can scrape everything off the plaster that will come off with scrapers and then wash it and prime it, but the problem with plaster is it "deteriorates" and between the plaster and any remaining lead paint that's stuck on there, the new paint job will probably fail at some point, sooner rather than later, and abatement will have to be done again.

I asked him about testing some samples from various parts of the house to see if they contain lead as well, and he said that even new paint contains lead (!) He says that any paint containing colors other than white will have detectable levels of lead, and under EPA rules that means that all the steps they do are necessary if any of the paint is removed or disturbed. Wouldn't that mean any disturbance, sanding, or scraping of any paint at all would be unsafe?

What do you all think about this stuff? If it were my house, I'd be tempted to plastic off the room, get a respirator and coveralls, wet the whole thing down and scrape it myself, but since it's *not* my house and the landlord is already aware of the lead issue, that's not an option.

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I'd talk with someone else. Lead in paint was banned by the Federal government in 1978, so his story about new paint containing lead suggests to me that he either is not well informed or he is trying to snow you on this job. Below is a link to a pamphlet about lead issues, and it has phone numbers of government agencies you can contact to get reliable, unbiased info. I'd talk with those folks to get an idea of what you are dealing with, and approaches they might suggest. Then, once you are more fully informed, talk with more contractors.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lead pamphlet

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 9:58PM
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In the long run it might be less expensive, safer and much less of a mess to encapsulate the existing walls. This could be done with sheet rock, Nu Wall, fiberglass mesh and joint compound or some other method. Certainly worth checking into before attacking the walls.

I think it's possible that present day paints do contain minute quantities of lead. I would not think, however, this would mwean treating it as if it was old fashioned high lead content paint.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 7:01AM
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"since it cannot possibly be painted over to encapsulate it, the whole schmear has to come off. "

This does not make much sense.

Strip the wallpaper and paint the walls.

End of problem.

You did have either a sample tested at a lab or a gamma ray lead tester used on site to be certain there is lead present, correct?

While lead oxide pigment went away a long time ago, lead acetate (AKA 'sugar of lead') continued for a while in high end gloss paints as a hardener and gloss improver.

It was not used in flat paints.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 9:01AM
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This does not make much sense.

Strip the wallpaper and paint the walls.

End of problem.

If I strip the wallpaper, flakes of loose paint from underneath come flying off and disintegrate everywhere. There is no way I can repaint that wall without first scraping and scrubbing off the old paint *under* the wallpaper. Not everyone has your contempt for the EPA and I would rather not risk poisoning my children and small pets, and I also am not interested in getting fined or evicted for breaking my state laws regarding removal of lead-contaminated material.

You did have either a sample tested at a lab or a gamma ray lead tester used on site to be certain there is lead present, correct?

Not yet, I'm going by the results from a big box store test kit, but before I hire anyone to come in and remove it at high cost I'll certainly want more accurate testing to confirm that it has lead.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:33PM
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I definitely wouldn't try any half-hearted fixes on a rental property. If your landlord wants to do that in his own home with his own family, he should be able to. If he wants to be landlord, then he needs to follow all of the rules and requirements that ensure his tenants are protected.

As a practical matter though, they sell all sorts of chemical strippers that partially dissolve the paint and minimize any dust. As long as you isolate the room and clean up afterward, it doesn't pose any real danger. The real danger is from exposure to high levels of lead (eating a bunch of paint) or long term exposure to smaller levels of lead (eating a tiny bit of paint every day.)

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 2:40PM
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So pay someone else.

I'm still not sure what the big deal is, either. Given that you can deduct it from your rent, I'd pay to have it done, but once the wallpaper's down and any loose paint removed, there is no problem with encapsulating.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 10:09PM
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I'm *trying* to hire someone to remove it. But like I already said, in my state the only people I can legally hire to do it are certified lead abatement technicians. And that gets pricey -- the quote this guy gave me is way more than the cap on what I'm allowed to deduct from my rent -- so I have to figure out if they're inventing things to crank that price higher unnecessarily.

I know encapsulating it wouldn't be a problem once the wallpaper and loose paint is removed. It's the removal that's the issue. When I said it couldn't possibly be painted over I meant the wallpaper.

Having someone hang drywall over that wall is definitely an option, since it's not a wall with windows or electrical outlets and it doesn't have any special trim (it looks like it might even be cheaper). I have some contractors coming over tomorrow to give me estimates.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 10:51PM
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Having someone hang drywall over that wall is definitely an option,

I've certainly had that done a couple of times. I'm not even sure that we used 1/2" drywall. It was bonded on with a layer of Durabond. Looked fine once we adjusted a piece of door trim or two.

Be sure to get the ll's permission first. After seeing a couple of my tenants' renos I wouldn't allow it unless it was professionally done.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 11:50PM
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So you have wallpaper on the plaster, and then layers of paint over it, one of which contains lead?

Or there is paint on the plaster under the wallpaper?

If the latter, I'd use chemical paint stripper... I think some that I have called Organic Strip, or the 3M stuff, would fit the bill given the kids and that it's indoors.

If the former, I think I would go with your plan A, but as I'm not familiar with the EPA regs I don't understand why you can't in a rental situation.

If you don't want to touch it, maybe you could just put a new layer of wallpaper over it? Perhaps with liner paper underneath, or use textured paper? A whole new layer of gyproc seems like serious overkill.

By the way, I had some bloodwork done last month and asked to have my lead levels tested as well. 16 years of living in a lead-paint house and doing paint stripping - and I'm normal. I know that was the likely outcome, but I wanted to be sure.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 2:56AM
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Make sure that any chemical stripper you use is definitively recommended for plaster work. Some of them will just not work at all, others will cause subsequent paint failures. You will discover the former by T&E; You must avoid the latter.
Choose wisely grasshopper.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 2:02PM
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Another recommendation: Get a good vacuum cleaner with true HEPA filtration, so that if any dust has been produced you can get it up. I bought a Miele Capricorn double-walled vacuum with HEPA (we have asbestos in our basement...similar in fine dust airborne risk as lead). The bagless vacuums are NOT good.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 11:56PM
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