Lead, a naturally occurring element, can be toxic when taken into the body through breathing, eating or drinking. Lead is most dangerous to children, especially those under six years old. Nearly 500,000 children living in the United States have blood lead levels exceeding 10 micrograms per deciliter, a level at which adverse health effects are known to occur. Lead poisoning can affect virtually every body system — it can damage a child’s central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system. At high levels, lead can cause coma, convulsions and death. Even low levels of lead in your children’s blood can be harmful and can result in decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, decreased stature and growth and impaired hearing. Because childhood lead poisoning often has no distinctive clinical symptoms, it can go unrecognized. Once lead enters the body, it accumulates and remains there forever.
The most significant sources of lead exposure for U.S. children are deteriorated lead-based paint and dust contaminated with lead. Decades ago lead was a commonly used additive to paint. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, but about 85 percent of U.S. housing was built before the ban. Young children who live in older houses with deteriorating paint may eat paint chips that contain lead or ingest or breathe lead-contaminated dust from floors, carpeting or their toys. Since the exterior of homes may also have been painted with lead-based paint, children may be exposed to lead in the soil when they play outdoors. Other sources of lead poisoning include those related to hobbies (e.g., making stained-glass windows) or work (e.g., recycling or making automobile batteries) as well as homes with either lead pipes or homes with copper pipes that were assembled with lead-based solder.
In November 2017 Lancaster City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit the use and distribution of sources of lead hazards, to provide for the notification of violations and testing procedures and to document standards. It also provides procedures and requirements for monitoring the abatement of lead hazards, provides some exemptions, and provides for the protection of occupants of residences and child care facilities containing lead hazards. It includes fines and remedies for violations as well as for inspections.
Lancaster City has put together a list of Lead Risk Assessors. Property owners may select any EPA-certified and state-licensed Lead Risk Assessor not on Lancaster City’s List; however, anyone selected must be recognized by the Commonwealth of PA as a Lead Risk Assessor. Current credentials must be provided to the City of Lancaster along with evidence of insurance coverage for this type of work.
The City of Lancaster provides a form called a “Lead Safe Certification” which certifies that a visual inspection and dust wipe samples have been taken in the dwelling. It states that the dwelling does not have any visible deteriorated paint and that the samples were collected in compliance with EPA regulations, tested and found to not contain lead contaminated dust in excess of EPA dust lead standards (250 micrograms per square foot on interior window sills or 400 micrograms per square foot on window wells).
Dwellings built after 1978 are exempt from the ordinance as well as dwellings for the elderly or disabled, college students, dwellings owned by the Lancaster City Housing Authority or dwellings where children aged six and under do not reside.
According to the ordinance, the Lead Safe Certification form shall be submitted to Lancaster City based on an inspection at turnover of the dwelling or dwelling unit to a new tenant; the Lead Safe Certification must be based on a Clearance Examination completed at turnover of the dwelling or a Clearance Examination completed no more than 24 months prior to the date a new lease is entered into.
The ordinance also states: in areas where the deteriorated paint is less than 10 percent of the total component or less than 20 square feet on exterior surfaces, and less than two square feet in any one interior room, clearance testing is not required. However, lead-safe work practices must be followed when repairing the poor condition of the paint in these areas. The City’s square-foot calculation shall be the sole factor in determining whether the exception to abatement is authorized pursuant to this section.
The ordinance continues: if the dwelling was built prior to 1978 and is a condemned property, the owner or authorized agent must possess a one-day EPA Renovation Repair Painting (RRP) Certification prior to obtaining a demolition or building permit from the City. Once construction is complete, the owner is required to submit a Lead Safe Certification to the City.
A “Clearance Examination” is a test performed once remodeling or repair work is complete. If the Clearance Examination shows a failed result (high lead levels still remain after the repairs are made), the owner must pay for subsequent Clearance Examinations until a Lead Safe Certification is secured. A copy of the Lead Safe Certification must be provided to the City prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Habitability and/or Certificate of Occupancy for the condemned dwelling.
Upon its sale if a Lead Source Health Hazard is known to exist in a home, the owner must notify or disclose to a potential buyer the unsafe existing lead condition, provide a copy of the Risk Assessment and provide a copy of the Sales Disclosure Statement to the tenant and the City.
The full text of the ordinance can be found here. For any specific questions about lead, the ordinance, etc., please contact the City of Lancaster.
Keep in mind that the detection and testing for lead (whether in paint, plumbing or other components) is considered well outside the scope of a home inspection per the home inspection standards set forth by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Lead-In-Paint test sticks are available for purchase at most hardware stores; however, these test sticks only test very small areas (about the size of a thumb nail). Therefore they only provide basic information about the specific area tested, and it does not provide a detailed analysis about other areas such as adjacent wood work or trim in other areas of the same room or elsewhere in the home. All other areas would also need to be individually tested. Qualified contractors who perform x-ray fluoresence (XRF) testing, however, can test large amounts of the interior and exterior of a home to determine whether lead is present in paint on trim, doors, windows, etc. XRF is a tool used to provide a chemical composition analysis of a material such as trim.
Matthew Steger, ACI, WIN Home Inspection
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