About Hiring a Lead & Asbestos Service Provider

If your house was constructed before 1978, there may be sleeping beasts in your home. Lead could be lurking in your copper piping or interior paint, and asbestos hibernating in textured paint, patching compounds on your walls or ceiling joints, vinyl floor tiles, window caulking, linoleum or glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood. Homes built between 1930 and 1950 could have asbestos in piping or wall insulation. Before you embark on a search-and-destroy mission, however, you should be certain it’s necessary—often it’s better to let sleeping beasts lie. While it’s disconcerting to know that you’re cohabiting with lead or asbestos, the fact is that trying to remove them could release toxic fibers. On the other hand, if the beast has already been disturbed in its lair, you’ll need to call in the handlers. Lead and asbestos vendors fall into two main categories: those that will inspect for lead and asbestos, and those that will remove it. Some do both.

Even in a pre-1978 home, lead and asbestos are unlikely to pose a threat if the home has been well maintained and has escaped damage. Painting interior surfaces regularly and washing the woodwork help keep the lead or asbestos where it can’t do any harm. But once insulation or flooring has been damaged or paint chipped, particles can be disturbed and fibers released. Have a professional assess the area if you see any of these signs or if you are planning renovations. Inspection fees are typically charged by the hour, but may vary, based on the condition and location of the area to be inspected.

Who Is Qualified to Do This Work?

Be aware that not all inspectors are licensed to assess both lead and asbestos, as these require separate licenses. Asbestos inspection and removal companies, as well as their handlers (those who work directly with the toxic material), supervisors, inspectors, project designers and limited handlers (plumbers, electricians, contractors who work on a contaminated site) must be licensed by the state. Asbestos investigators (as inspectors are called in New York State), handlers and supervisors must be licensed by New York City as well as the state. Note that city licenses expire every two years, while state licenses must be renewed each year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues licenses for companies and professionals who work with lead control, including removal, inspection and risk assessment. In addition, everyone on the work site must be certified. Although the city does not issue licenses, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must be notified when lead abatement work is taking place. This is the responsibility of the contractor and compliance should be included in the written contract.

What Should I Expect from an Inspection?

Be sure that your lead and/or asbestos inspector does a complete visual exam and takes samples to be analyzed at a laboratory. If results indicate contamination, the inspector should provide a complete written evaluation, describing the location and extent of the hazard and suggestions for correction or risk prevention. With asbestos, the best remedy is often to do nothing. If action is required, a simple repair will often suffice. Repairs tend to be cheaper than removal, but there’s a risk: they may make later removal more difficult and costly. Removal is typically a last resort for asbestos control because of the risk of fiber release, but if you are planning a major renovation that could disturb and release fibers, it might be necessary. Then you will need a professional contractor to manage the job and minimize potential hazards.

The most advanced testing for lead utilizes X-Ray Fluorescent (XRF) technology. Not all companies have this equipment because it is expensive and requires extra licensing from the state and certification for its users. Some lead inspectors, however, will contract another provider who has XRF technology to do the job. This technology is more expensive than taking paint samples from the home because it does a more thorough job, inspecting every inch of space, and it does not damage surfaces. On the other hand, chipping—the most standard lead-testing procedure—is invasive. Chip sampling requires taking four-inch squares of paint from walls, ceilings, door jambs, moldings, etc., then examining these pieces in the lab. The recommended sampling method for lead dust is the surface wet wipe. Dust samples are collected from different surfaces, such as bare floors, window sills and window wells. Each sample is collected from a measured surface area using a wet wipe, which is sent to a laboratory for testing.

Contracts, Cost and Compliance

Although it is fine for an inspector to recommend a contractor, never hire one connected with the inspector’s firm. You want to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Fees are generally based on an hourly rate, but vary according to the condition and location of the area to be treated. Ask for an on-site estimate, and get a contract in writing. You should also have the inspector visit the work site frequently to make sure that the contractor is following the proper procedures. Many inspection firms are also licensed to monitor the air quality of work sites, which is a wise precaution to take throughout the repair or removal process. When the contractor’s job has been finished and before you sign off on the written contract, it is wise to have the same inspection or air monitoring firm do an assessment of the job site to ensure that no particles have escaped into the air. Again, this firm should not be connected with the contractor.

You should also obtain copies of each worker’s licenses and certificates as well as a written contract that guarantees compliance with all state and local regulations and clearly defines the work plan and cleanup process. When the job is completed, make sure that you receive written assurance that the terms of the contract were met and that all local and state procedures were followed.

Where to Learn More

Good resources for more information about lead and asbestos include the American Lung Association (www.lungusa.org), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov), the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov), the American Industrial Hygiene Association (www.aiha.org), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (www.osha.gov).

Facts About Lead Poisoning

  • Lead was banned in U.S. residential paint in 1978.
  • According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
    90 percent of pre-1940 buildings have lead
    80 percent of pre-1960 buildings have lead
    62 percent of pre-1978 buildings have lead
  • Lead poisoning is a serious disease affecting many organs and the central nervous system, which, when affected, causes learning and developmental disabilities in children.
  • The primary cause of lead poisoning is inhaling tiny particles of lead dust from deteriorated paint.
  • In the U.S., more than three million children age six and younger—one out of every six children in that age group—have toxic levels of lead in their bodies.
  • Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.
  • Lead poisoning is preventable—hire a certified inspector and remove any lead-ridden paint or pipes in your home.
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