During our Lead Renovator Certification classes (RRP), I often find the need to explain the difference between a lead inspection and a lead risk assessment. Many contractors and homeowners feel these two issues are one in the same, but each provides a different level of information and safety.
In accordance with the HUD Guidelines on lead paint, a Lead Inspection is an investigation of surfaces to determine the presence of lead based paint. The result of a lead inspection will tell you where lead based paint is located. In EverGreen’s lead inspection reports, if there is lead paint over the established concentration limits in your home or building, you will know what surface coatings – on doors, window sashes, sills, or walls – contains lead paint.
On the other hand, HUD Guidelines define a Lead Risk Assessment as “an on-site investigation to determine the existence, location, nature, and severity of lead hazards”. Where an inspection tells you where the lead hazard is, the risk assessment will tell you if the lead paint is or could soon be a health hazard. Just because lead paint is found in your home or building does not mean is can cause health-related problems. The paint or surface coating has to be deteriorated to the point of dust creation before it can compromise safety. For example, just holding a bar of metallic lead in your hand does not constitute a lead hazard. To be a “hazard” the lead has to get into your body. This can only be done if the lead paint is chipping, flaking, or abrading, and dust is inhaled or bits of lead paint are somehow eaten. To be a lead risk hazard, enough lead dust must be present to exceed established contamination levels.
Your choice between a lead inspection and lead risk assessment depends on what you wish to do with the information. Using an XRF to perform a lead inspection will tell you if lead is in the home or building, no matter how many layers of paint exist. A lead inspection will allow a contractor, homeowner, or day care operator to make smart decisions about remodeling, repairing and painting the building. If you are selling a home, documentation of a lead – free building, especially in an older home, may make the property more valuable because you will not need to use Lead Safe Work Practices to make any repairs or to remodel. This will cost less, since no extensive lead dust containment will be necessary.
If you are a landlord, are renting a property, have small children, or are pregnant or plan to have children, then a lead risk assessment may be more advantageous. Lead Risk Assessments focus on the condition of lead paint in the house, in order to identify places where chipping or flaking paint could contribute to the creation of lead dust. Although a risk assessment does not involve testing every surface for lead paint, a risk assessment will tell you if lead dust is coating the floor, present on a window sill or window well, or in the soil outside the house. Should elevated levels of lead dust be found, a lead risk assessor has the knowledge to recommend control practices to eliminate the lead dust, and therefore lead poisoning risk.
In Vermont, Essential Maintenance Practices, or EMPs, are a little like the risk assessment. An EMP certified property does not mean the rental unit is lead-free; it does say that steps have been taken to minimize the potential for lead poisoning by ensuring that sources of lead dust are controlled. If a homeowner does work on an older house, or if a landlord hires a contractor, it is recommended that lead dust sampling be performed after the work and cleanup is done to document that no lead dust is on the floor or other horizontal surfaces. This Lead Dust Clearance Testing becomes documentation that no lead hazards are left after the work. This way it is possible to prove that an adverse lead health effect experienced by a home dweller did not come from a renovation, repair, or painting event that occured with in the home dweller’s environment.
Finally, a lead paint inspection and a risk assessment can both be performed at the same time to identify where the lead paint might be, to test for the presence of lead dust hazards, and allow for how the adoption of practices designed to minimize or eliminate lead dust poisoning hazards.