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Robin Little, AXA Risk Consulting

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Vice President, AXA XL Risk Consulting

If your property was built prior to 1978, its walls could very well be coated with lead-based paint (LBP). Popular for its blue-grey color, durability and anti-corrosive properties, lead was a common paint additive until the Federal government banned it in 1978, due to evidence of its negative health consequences.

Buildup of lead in the blood can damage organs and lead to neurological disorders, including everything from behavioral problems to seizures and even death. Children are most susceptible to lead poisoning, which can also stem from lead pipes seeping the toxic metal into soil and water.

Despite the moratorium on LBP, exposure remains a global health problem. A 2020 report by UNICEF indicated that as many as one in three children have blood lead levels at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which the WHO and CDC deem a cause for action. Smaller studies have likened lead exposure to tobacco smoke, in terms of all-cause mortality.

The risks associated with LBP can, however, be managed and mitigated. Federal, State and local regulations outline steps property owners should take to minimize the hazard and keep tenants informed of potential risks.

Adhering to these five best management practices can help property owners protect tenants, maintenance staff and construction workers from exposure, while minimizing compliance risks.

Adhering to the following five best management practices can help property owners protect tenants, maintenance staff and construction workers from exposure, while minimizing compliance risks.

1. Identification and testing – know if LBP is present in your building.
Conduct a site inspection and risk assessment to determine the presence, type and severity of lead hazards. These should be done only by certified inspectors or risk assessors who understand how to test surfaces safely and provide targeted mitigation recommendations.

If any lead-based paint is found, it should be mapped and the location communicated to anyone working in the area, as well any current or potential tenants or buyers. And of course, any inspection results and communications should be documented.

2. Develop a written LBP Operations & Maintenance (O&M) plan and designate a program manager.
An O&M plan should be your go-to document detailing the location, type and of severity of any LBP exposures, as well as the appropriate controls. The plan should stipulate how often LBP areas are to be inspected, how they should be protected or maintained to prevent damage, and how abatement should be conducted if necessary. It is a living record of everything you are doing to stay informed about a building’s exposures and protect tenants and workers.

A LBP program manager should be identified to assume ownership for developing and executing the O&M plan. The program manager role may be assumed by the health and safety director, facilities manager, superintendent, or in some cases the property owner themselves. This single point of contact can help determine whether active management or abatement is necessary. LBP that is in good shape, with no apparent chipping or peeling, can typically be left alone unless construction or renovation is planned that could cause disturbance. LBP in poor condition may require abatement via encapsulation and/or removal.

3. Utilize a work order/permit system.
LBP may not be the only health hazard that a program manager is dealing with. Mold, asbestos and other potentially dangerous substances may also be present in a building. The best way to manage these risks comprehensively is through a central work order/permit system. When all orders for routine maintenance or more extensive construction work are submitted through a single system, the program manager can review how work activities could impact all hazardous materials and ensure appropriate safety protocols are implemented.

4. Follow laws and regulations regarding LBP tenant notification and abatement procedures.
Property owners and managers must notify tenants if LBP is present and minimize related exposures. If abatement is necessary, it is critical that contractors have appropriate certifications, as outlined in Federal, State and local regulations. All abatement projects must be accompanied by a site-specific health and safety plan that describes how exposures will be eliminated or controlled. Property owners and managers must also ensure that LBP wastes are properly managed and disposed by contractors.

5. Utilize abatement contractors with appropriate training and experience.
The EPA Lead Abatement Program establishes training and certification requirements for contractors conducting LBP abatement, risk assessment or inspection activities. Training programs must be accredited by the EPA or the appropriate authorized body. Safe removal of lead-based paint requires the right protective gear, equipment and engineering controls in order to prevent lead particles from spreading to uncontaminated areas.

Learn More
Lead-based paint presents a significant risk for property owners to manage, but it can be managed safely with the right planning and controls in place. To learn more about lead-related health risks, regulations governing proper management, and more best practices, download the bulletin “Lead-Based Paint: Risk Management for Building Owners & Property Managers.”

Asbestos is also a risk that property owners and building managers must carefully manage to control asbestos exposure and liability concerns. To learn more, read “Asbestos persists as a top health hazard” and download our Environmental Risk Bulletin "Asbestos-containing Material: Risk Management for Building Owners & Property Managers".

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