Ask a NARI Contractor: Mother in a Panic over Lead-tainted Dust

Lead paint dust

Jennifer, a mother of three young kids (who is NOT pictured here), is understandably “freaking out” about the possibility of lead-tained dust in her home. For advice, I turned to members of the newly form L.A. chapter of the National Assn. of the Remodeling Industry. Three contractors responded. Read the question and their answers below:

Question: I have three children under 4 years old, and I am having my living room painted in our 1940 house. The windowsills needed sanding. When I asked about the potential for lead paint, the contractor (who came highly recommended from several sources and is expensive) told me that it was only surface sanding (I painted with latex paint several years ago) and that he would make sure all the dust was cleaned up. Well, there was a lot more sanding and dust than I expected, and now I am freaking out that I took his word on the whole lead issue. What can I do now? Do I test whatever dust I can find? Is there some expert I can hire to have my house evaluated for lead exposure? Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

Answer: From Samantha Thompson, vice president of design, Custom Design & Construction, Los Angeles:

Thanks for your questions, and I can understand why you are concerned. For starters, federal law requires that contractors who are disturbing more than 2 square feet of painted surfaces give you a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family From Lead in your Home” before any work begins. The homeowner should sign a document saying they received the pamphlet, which the contractor should keep on file. Licensed contractors should employ only qualified workers and follow strict safety guidelines set by their state or federal government.

All homes built before 1978 have paint that contains high levels of lead. The lead from paint, chips and dust can pose health hazards, especially to children under the age of 6, if it is not taken care of properly.

The best thing to do now is have your home tested for lead-based paint. The removal of lead-based paint should only be done by trained, certified professionals who have experience working with hazardous materials. You can call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD to find a lead abatement firm in your area. You can also find more information on its website,

A more immediate step you can take is to clean up paint chips immediately and to clean all floors, window frames, windowsills and surfaces with warm water and an all-purpose cleaner. If you are still feeling uncomfortable about your children being exposed, you should consult your doctor. A simple blood test will detect of there are high levels if lead. Your doctor can then determine if more testing is needed.

More info from this company: (310) 815-4815

Answer: From Quiet Valley Building Company, Irwindale:

Listed below are the steps that should have been part of the work you hired your painter to do and what you might ask him to do now, so that you and your family are safe.

Continue to keep all family members from contact with any dust or debris. You’re right to recognize lead dust as a health hazard for children. So I am confident you didn’t casually allow family members to travel through the work area while dust was present. Dust is a normal part of paint preparation. Good work requires a thorough sanding, and it sounds like this is what your contractor did.

To begin with, the contractor should have made a safety plan with you about the operations involving sanding. A daily check-off sheet for this plan should have been posted outside the work area. This way you and the workers would know a safety plan was in place, greatly reducing your stress and now that of your contractor.

The contractor should have secured all areas prior to working so dust wouldn’t travel beyond the work areas. This is easy to accomplish with plastic barriers that can temporarily separate your family from dust generated by these preparations. These barriers should include all openings and floors. This makes cleanup easy.

Each day, all areas of the work site should have been cleaned. This includes all horizontal surfaces and vertical surfaces, paying special attention to areas where dust can accumulate, such as the tops of cabinets, hanging lamps and tops of door moldings. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is adequate for this work.

The workers should also be protected by wearing disposable suits and proper HEPA dust filter masks. These can be discarded or kept safely wrapped up for reuse and then properly discarded. The clothing worn by workers presents a danger for their children as well if taken home to be washed by family members. So this risk should also be considered in any plan.

When all the sanding operations are over, the painting contractor applies the prime coat, ending the hazard from this source. With careful removal of the original plastic and active ventilation prior to your family re-entering the area, the danger has passed.

It’s the contractor’s responsibility to have taken these steps listed above prior to starting the sanding. If after a thorough cleaning you’re still concerned about the condition of your home and the lead content, you could have testing done by an agency. A local firm, Advanced American Laboratories in Studio City, can either test the samples you bring to them or can be hired to come out and complete an analysis of your property. If you elect to bring samples to them, remember to note which area of your home they came from.

More info from this company: Call Chuck at (626) 355-8036, Ext. 8

Answer: From Nicolle Mitchell of D.C. Mitchell General Contractor, Torrance:

First of all, any time you are sanding inside you are going to have residual dust. With that being said, when you are dealing with an older house that has original moldings, door jams, casings, flooring, plaster walls, it is recommended that you have a licensed environmental testing company come out and take samples of all areas that may contain lead, asbestos or other harmful agents prior to any work being done.

If it tests positive, the environmental company will refer you to a licensed abatement company who will then safely remove it. When you are doing large demo/remodeling of an entire area, most cities mandate testing prior to demolition, but with a small project like this one, the city does not get involved and so it is important that you make sure your contractor is giving you correct information. For peace of mind, I would suggest having the area tested. I’m not sure how far down the area was sanded — down to the raw wood or just the top area of the latex paint you applied. You can contact the South Coast Air Quality Management District at or call (909) 396-2336.

More info from this company:(310) 326-3429, cell: (310) 947-7251