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Ask Tamara: My contractor suggested torch burning…

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.49.17 PMAsk Tamara
March 10, 2015
From: Mama A in Portland, Oregon (via Facebook)

Mama A’s Question:

“Hi Tamara! We met a year or so ago & you had tested a paint chip from the exterior of our home. It had high levels of lead. We have not dealt with it yet. We just had a painter over and he said they use heat & I immediately said I wasn’t comfortable with that. He said they set their torches on a mid heat, not high heat. I asked for alternatives & he said they could sand but it wouldn’t remove as much of the lead. He also said there is no way to remove all lead & some will leach back into the new paint. He said we would need to be out of the house for 10 days.

I know you are sooo very busy, but if you get a moment could you send me your thoughts – I’m freaking out!

I just had my 3 year old tested & asked for specific # & again they would only tell me that it was so low (under 3.3) that it didn’t register. I guess that’s great but like you had said I wonder how close he is to BLL 3-range.

Thank you!! And as always thank you for the work you do!!!

If you have a thought or comment for Mama A.  Please post as a comment to this blog post (below.)  Thank you!

Tamara’s Response:

Any use of an open-flame torch on lead-based paint is strictly illegal! If they use a torch at all the fumes will permeate your home and you’ll have to throw out everything (When our children were poisoned (because a contractor used a torch) we had to throw out most of our mattress, couches, bean bag chairs, rugs – anything that could not easily be cleaned.)  Good instinct-following there!

Mama A’s Response:
(we were messaging back and forth on Facebook! 😉

“Interesting!!! This is his web page about it [omitted] – why would he tell us he preferred torch??!! He didn’t push it though & even said sanding was cheaper – seemed to respect my concerns but then I overheard my husband asking him about it again when I stepped away to run after the kiddo. My husband is frustrating me, so I’m so thankful the sanding is cheaper at least. But then I’m wondering how much I trust them. If we head to the coast for 2 weeks are they going to pull out torches anyway?!!”

Tamara’s Response:

Dry sanding
is also illegal – and is nearly as bad/equally as bad as torching.

sanding is okay – sparingly  – not the whole house, though!  Proper containment must be used for all methodologies – including collection of any debris created with wet sanding (water collection/ sludge collection and frequent cleanup.)

If you are not replacing siding, no matter what you do there will still be lead paint left in the siding – irrespective of what removal method they use.

Heat guns
look like a blow dryer – and most don’t have sophisticated true temperature regulators – so to call a heat gun “low heat” is useless if it doesn’t read out the temperature that it reaches (it can easily pass the safe threshold).

The set of legal guidelines any painter needs to follow is spelled out in the EPA RRP Rule.  The contractor’s website should have a badge that shows they are EPA RRP-certified (it is a green and white and blue oval – see below.)  They should also be able to produce a current (non-expired) RRP Certificate—and I would ALWAYS ask for that before hiring a painter. Another great source is Angie’s List. They made a promise to consumers last year to only list EPA RRP-certified contractors – with current certificates in good standing, so go to Angie’s List to search for an RRP-certified contractor (instead of going with a friend’s referral – who may not be certified.)  It’s a big trap – to go with painters (or their businesses) who call themselves “green”, when “green” is an appellation that really doesn’t actually mean anything specific.

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Certification Logo Example

2 Responses to Ask Tamara: My contractor suggested torch burning…

  1. Perry Cabot March 20, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Hi there Mama A. Tamara is absolutely correct that open flame torching of lead paint is now listed among the prohibited activities when removing paint on pre-1978 homes. Unfortunately, dry sanding is NOT prohibited except on housed funded with $ from HUD. Wet sanding is obviously preferable in most every circumstance. Dry sanding with powered equipment MUST be done with attached HEPA filtered vacuum hoses. Hand dry sanding can be done (without the use of high speed equipment) but there should be substantial efforts made to seal up all windows, doors etc. and significant coverage outside on the ground with 6-millimeter plastic should be provided in order to meet the minimum protections for the RRP rule. If this contractor initially proposed using torches I’d run the opposite way and find a reputable contractor who respects the rules and your family’s safety and health.

    Please call the Multnomah County Leadline at 503-988-4000 if you have more questions or need info on other local resources around lead poisoning prevention.

  2. Perry Cabot March 20, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Additionally Mama A, it would be good for you to contact the OR CCB with the company name of the contractor who proposed torch burning as they should be on the enforcement radar for the folks who are supposed to enforce the regulations.

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