How to handle lead paint ‘on the job’

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SABATTUS — It looked like any other house in need of work, but it wasn’t for Randy Trefethen and his team from Renovate Right Construction.

Danger lurked on the job.

The house was packed with lead paint, a poison that can damage the brain and organs when it gets into the bloodstream through lead dust thrown into the air during sanding and renovation.

Trefethen described himself as “a hyper guy,” proven by his big-grinned welcome and his eagerness to share all he knew about lead safety.

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Trefethen and his team, Chris Bowden of Wales and Keith Dill of Auburn, were renovating the house, which is about 65 years old. They were taking precautionary and thorough measures to ensure everyone’s safety.

The age of the house and the chipped walls signaled to Trefethen that there was a silent predator lining the walls of the house, and a simple test confirmed it: The house was hot with lead. The team prepared to renovate the house in a way atypical of most painters and contractors, a way that is lead-safe.

In the first room they worked on, Trefethen said a lead test confirmed that the windows, floor and an old staircase were completely leaded. The team immediately sealed off all the doors by covering them with plastic and taping the plastic to the door frame. They then made a wash station outside.

You need to come in and be really prepared to do the job,” he said. “Do I have all the tools, do I have my HEPA vacuum, do I have my water, do I have my detergent? Is everything in this room that I need to do the job until lunch?”

Trefethen’s biggest concern was migration: tracking lead around the house is a danger to the workers and the occupants. The team always takes care to cover a homeowner’s belongings or, in this case, to empty the room completely.

Trefethen and his team enclosed the old floor by covering it with two layers of plywood flooring. They began working in full safety suits with respirators, gutting the room of lead down to the frame by taking out the walls and woodwork.

After all the lead was cleared and the room was vacuumed and washed, they put in new walls and painted the room in their street clothes, still keeping the doors sealed off.

Obviously, keep it all sealed off to the occupants until the end,” Trefethen said. “The door goes in at the end. Protect yourself from bringing that stuff home and protect the occupants. That’s the key.”

DANGER: Lead Paint

Second of four parts of a six-month Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting investigation into the lingering problem of lead poisoning in Maine:

Wednesday: Childhood lead poisoning may not be in the news so much, but it’s still the No.1 health hazard for children. 

Thursday: Maine braces for hundreds more reported cases of lead poisoning in 2015 after the state adjusts lead levels that trigger a diagnosis.

Friday: A law designed to protect homeowners from lead is almost never enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sunday: Rates of lead poisoning are down in most of Maine’s largest cities, but remain stubbornly high in Lewiston and Auburn.

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