The Abatement of Lead Paint Hazards

Under Maryland law, lead paint abatement is "a set of measures designed to eliminate or reduce lead-based paint hazards." Anyone who provides a lead paint abatement service be accredited by the Maryland Department of the Environment. An accredited contractor must follow procedures covered in State regulations. Anyone who removes lead paint, or who conducts any other maintenance or home improvement activity which creates a hazard by disturbing lead paint, should follow the safe practices which are included in these regulations.

Caution: Work which spreads lead dust, fumes, or debris can be highly dangerous for adults as well as children.


Health Effects

There is no established safe level of lead in the human body. No exposure to lead can be regarded as free from potential harm. It has long been known that high levels of lead exposure can cause serious disability or death. Recent research has focused on the toxic effects of low level exposure.

The brain and nerves are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning interferes with the formation of blood cells, which may cause anemia. It can also damage the kidneys, digestive system, reproductive system (for both men and women) and other organs. Low level exposure can damage hearing, learning ability, and coordination.

Lead has been used in making paint, solder, plumbing, ammunition, gasoline and many other products. When lead is burned or heated, anyone who breathes the fumes will take lead into his/her body. People can also swallow lead; for example, lead dust can get onto food or cigarettes. Lead may also be found in drinking water.

Following exposure, lead accumulates in the body. Lead poisoning usually results from many small exposures over a period of weeks or years. Lead is stored throughout the body. Lead stays in the blood for weeks, it remains in the brain and other soft tissues for several months, and it can be stored in bones for many decades. Lead released from storage in bone can also cause lead poisoning years after the original exposure.

Lead Poisoning in Children

Young children, less than six years of age, are of special concern because their developing brains and other organs can easily be damaged by lead. It is normal for young children to put everything, including hands, pacifiers and toys, into their mouths. Anything that contains lead, from small dust particles to large paint chips, can cause harm if swallowed. Lead poisoning causes learning and behavior problems that may be permanent in young children.

Lead poisoning often goes unnoticed. A child with lead poisoning may seem to be well, and symptoms usually do not develop until the condition becomes quite serious. When symptoms occur, they are easy to confuse with symptoms of other illnesses such as the "flu."

Blood lead tests are the only way to detect lead poisoning early and are part of the routine health care recommended for all young children.

Lead Poisoning In Adults

The most important sources of lead exposure for adults are found in the work place. People who breathe lead fumes from activities such as the removal of old paint or the manufacture of lead products are at high risk for lead poisoning. Workers with lead dust on their hands can also contaminate the food that they eat and the cigarettes that they smoke.

An adult who has lead poisoning may notice fatigue, irritability, headache, weight loss, stomachache, or constipation. But lead can cause damage without any symptoms. Blood tests are important for anyone who works with lead on the job, in a hobby, or in any other activity.

Lead Poisoning in Pregnancy

Research now shows that lead at very low levels can have toxic effects on the developing fetus. Lead carried in the mother's blood is passed to her unborn child. Lead toxicity may cause miscarriage or premature birth. Infants born with only slightly elevated blood lead levels have been found to have developmental problems.

A mother's exposure to lead early in her life can also affect her unborn baby. During pregnancy, lead stored in a mother's bones is released, along with calcium needed by the fetus, into the mother's blood stream.

Safety Precautions

  1. Read and Follow the Regulations

    Regulations have been designed to protect the occupants of a building to be abated, the abatement workers, and the environment. The Lead Paint Hazard Fact Sheets in this series provide guidance which is consistent with Maryland's regulations. Be sure to follow those regulations which apply to your project. Failure to follow regulations may result in the creation of hazardous conditions, the assessment of fines or other penalties, and costly delays or revisions to your project. For more information, contact:

    • Environmental Lead Division, Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) at 410-537-3825 regarding State requirements for lead hazard abatement.
    • Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) at 410-880-4970 regarding worker safety.
    • Child Poisoning Prevention Program, Baltimore City Health Department at 443-984-2460 regarding Baltimore City lead hazard abatement requirements.
  2. Take Required Training and Become Accredited

    Maryland regulations require that any worker, supervisor, project designer, inspector or risk assessor involved in a lead abatement project be trained in safe and appropriate abatement procedures. Contact the MDE Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 410-537-3825, for a list of approved training providers.

    Contracting businesses (including self-employed individuals), supervisors, project designers, inspectors, and risk assessors must be accredited by MDE.

  3. Restrict Entry To Work Area

    All residents, including pets, must be relocated if work will take longer then 24 hours. Residents must stay out of the building until cleanup and any required inspections have been completed. Exceptions may be made if the abatement is limited to an isolated work area.

    Post warning signs immediately outside all entrances and exits to the work area.

    Only workers or individuals directly involved in the project may enter the work area.

    Pregnant women and young children are not to be involved in any paint removal activity and must stay out of the work area until cleanup has been completed.

  4. Pick the Safest Method

    Select the most appropriate methods for your project.

  5. Wear Appropriate Clothing

    Disposable coveralls minimize contamination of clothing by lead dust and to help prevent the spread of lead dust outside of the work area. Gloves and other special clothing may be required for protection from other work site hazards. Non-disposable coveralls may be used; however they must be cleaned at a commercial laundry which accepts lead-contaminated clothing.

  6. Use Appropriate Safety Equipment

    respirator with HEPA cartridges is required when using an electric heat gun, HEPA sander, or other methods which produce high levels of lead fumes or dust. A respirator is also recommended during the demolition phase of abatement or at other times when airborne lead levels can be expected to be higher. Check with Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) to be sure that you select the right respirator and filters. The respirator must be tested to assure proper fit. A paper dust mask will not protect you from lead dust. You may also need further safety equipment, special clothing, or additional respiratory protection to protect yourself from caustic strippers, organic vapors, or other hazards that are identified at a particular job site.

  7. Do Not Smoke or Eat In the Work Area

    Lead dust can easily get on your food or cigarettes. Store any eating or smoking materials away from the work area. Leave the work area and wash your hands and face before eating or smoking.

  8. Contain Lead Dust and Debris within the Work Area

    Keep lead dust and debris in the work area. Wear disposable shoe covers, and remove them when you leave the work area.

  9. Change Clothes and Wash Hands and Face

    Change your clothes and wash your hands and face when you leave the work area. Dust from work clothes and shoes which are brought home from the work site can expose family members to toxic levels of lead.

  10. Do Not Use Unsafe Methods

    Burning, dry sanding and dry scraping of lead paint are prohibited by Maryland lead paint abatement regulations.

    • Never Burn Lead Paint With an Open Flame Torch. Burning produces very high levels of lead dust and fumes.
    • Do Not Sand or Scrape Dry Lead Paint. Sanding or scraping a dry surface produces very high levels of lead dust.
  11. Work Safely with Chemicals

    When using any chemical stripper, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Any product which is strong enough to remove paint will probably be harmful to humans if not used properly. Use strippers which contain methylene chloride only for touch-up work in well-ventilated areas.

    Maryland's "Right To Know" law requires that workers receive essential information for working with all hazardous chemicals encountered at their work place. Contact Maryland Occupational Safety and Health at 410-333-4135 for requirements under this law.

  12. Check with Your Doctor

    Ask about a blood lead test if your work involves contact with lead. People who work in construction, painting, repair, maintenance or demolition in old buildings are likely to be exposed to lead.

    A medical evaluation is needed in order to wear a respirator. During the medical exam, the physician can also evaluate problems which you may have working with lead or other hazardous materials.

 This guidance is consistent with Maryland Lead Paint Abatement Regulations (COMAR 26.02.07) and Departmental policies.


Contact Information

MDE Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
(410) 537-3825 or 1-800-633-6101, Ext. 3825​

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