The disturbance and spread of lead-based paint in home construction and painting activities presents an acute risk to children who spend time homes undergoing renovations or who are children of parents who bring home contaminated dust from activities on their job. Distinct from the long-term exposure to slowly deteriorating lead-based paint hazards, construction activities have been shown to cause acute high-level spikes in blood lead levels from highly toxic dust and fumes. Activities that disturb lead-based paint, such as sanding, scraping, and other methods of paint removal are the most problematic and the unsafe practice of these techniques has been shown to increase blood lead levels by as much as 69%. A recent analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that more than 4.4 million home and childcare center renovation activities occur in the U.S. each year that could put children at risk of lead exposure.
As a result, the EPA has set regulations, most recently updated in 2010, that require work is completed by those who are trained and certified in the use of lead-safe work practices where lead-based paint may be present. While many of these rules have been in place since 2008 and the initial law citing the need for these standards dates back to 1992, the EPA’s enforcement of these rules to date has been underfunded and compliance could be improved through local or state enforcement of the EPA standards. Some cities and states have taken up enforcement activities of EPA policies and require contractors are certified in the use of lead-safe work practices before obtaining work permits. This website calculator measures the costs and benefits of the enforcement of the EPA-defined rules.
The computations on this website represent the costs and benefits of enforcement of the EPA’s regulations requiring that renovation, repair, and painting activities in homes with children and child care centers built prior to 1978 use lead-safe work practices. Costs of this enforcement include testing prior to work, training and education of workers, certification and enforcement, as well as additional renovation costs associated with complying with lead-safe standards. These renovation costs include using plastic sheeting and covering HVAC vents to contain lead dust, as well as proper clean-up to ensure lead-laden dust does not remain after a child returns to the space. Also included in the cost estimates is the use of full dust clearance testing following a renovation event to ensure the area is safe—this is not included in the EPA recommendations, but is strongly recommended by experts as an additional necessary step. Many estimates of the costs of this policy enforcement come from a 2008 EPA economic and policy analysis.
The benefits of this intervention are the prevented increases in blood lead levels that lead-safe work practices provide, and the resulting lifetime impacts of increased lifetime earnings, reduced health expenditures, decreased education spending, and a lower risk of mortality.