Dear Angie: How do I find a painter who is also qualified to remove lead paint before painting? — Jackie L., New Canaan, Conn.
Dear Jackie: Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to find contractors who are properly certified and take seriously the dangers of lead-paint poisoning. But it's really important to do the work to find them because lead-paint exposure can cause irreversible neurological damage, especially in young children.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency established stricter guidelines for safe lead paint removal which requires that companies or contractors who perform work that disturbs the paint in homes or buildings built before 1978 — and where children are present — be certified in and use lead-safe work practices. Contractors must complete an EPA-accredited training course to become a certified renovator.
Before the new rule, the only thing contractors were required to do was give homeowners a pamphlet warning about the dangers of lead paint.
Certified contractors should be eager to show you proof of their credentials. Federal law requires companies to provide documentation of their certification, as well as recordkeeping related to renovation projects where lead paint was involved. If more than one contractor will be on the job, at least one must be a certified renovator. That person is responsible to train all non-certified workers on the job site in lead-safe practices.
Compliance with the requirements adds to contractors' costs, though. So, it's possible that some uncertified painters who skirt the regulations will try to win your business offering lower prices than their lead safety-certified competition. Contractors who fail to meet the new guidelines can face stiff fines from the EPA. Still, homeowners can't assume that the regulation is being enforced.
That's why it's important to do your research ahead of time and talk to multiple contractors before you hire. Check online reviews and ask the contractors how they will protect your family from lead poisoning. Insist on seeing that certification.
A certified contractor will likely initiate a conversation about lead paint, and tell you how he or she will follow the new lead-safe work practices. Those steps should include isolating the area where lead paint will be disturbed with plastic sheeting, posting warning signs, avoiding now-banned techniques, like using certain high-dust-generating equipment and following specific cleaning protocol.
Walk away from any contractor who is dismissive of lead paint dangers. It's too big a risk to take, and it's also federal law.