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QUESTION: References for statement "Dust in the roof void (attic), wall cavity or under floor area is often contaminated with lead." - 24 Feb 2007 District of Columbia, USA

In your publication, "The Main Sources of Lead" (#2), you state that "Dust in the roof void (attic), wall cavity or under floor area is often contaminated with lead."  I agree with this conclusion and I have tried unsuccessfully to convince the U.S. EPA Lead Program that these sources can present a serious exposure hazard.  Can you supply me with your references concerning lead in attics, wall cavities, and under floors?

Thank you. Dan‍

ANSWER: 24 Feb 2007

Dear Daniel, it is wonderful to receive your email and hear of your desire to raise awareness of ceiling dust as a lead exposure source in the US! I've heard so little about ceiling dust from the United States I was starting to wonder if you had a magic way of constructing roofs that didn't allow the dust to get in like it does here where we build houses with good ventilation of the roof space in mind because of the heat. But there is some information. For example, please find attached a transcript one of our volunteers made of a 1992 New Jersey lead video: The film is "Lead Poisoning: The Silent Epidemic" by Joan Luckhardt, produced for the New Jersey Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in 1992. Ralph Scott of the Alliance for Healthy Housing (AFHH) - - should be able to tell you if video copies are still available. The transcript includes:

Kath MANAHAN: But the danger of lead poisoning is not confined to dilapidated housing it enters the industrial working environment too. Lead poisoning knows no economic or professional boundaries. A new phenomena, sometimes called 'Yuppie Lead Poisoning' has developed as young professionals buy up the homes in older neighbourhoods. Connie Clayman and Eric Sohberg bought a Brownstone in Jersey City and moved in with their daughter Kristen. They couldn't wait to start renovating. As they worked they were unknowingly breathing lead particles. Lead was the farthest thing from their minds and they didn't know the importance of proper lead removal. After months of work their home was beautiful but their daughter Kristen was poisoned.

Eric SOHLBERG: We've come to believe now that it was mostly due to dust from renovating. For example if we took down a wall or a ceiling had to come down on the top floor that would make a dust in the air and we would clean up and dispose of the garbage but there would still be a lingering dust. Even if it was in a different part of the house and kept the doors closed, dust seeps throughout and lasts a long time. It's really not safe to renovate in the same house we 've come to learn with children around. I mean you could renovate, you could seal off with plastic but your gonna walk in and out, your shoes will, your body will, something will come out and we found that dust is so insidious that sealing off with tape I don't even think would. Although people do that and it might be okay. I would say that it's taking a chance. Old houses are beautiful and we love our house but renovating one doesn't mix with young children.

On 19 May 2000, we have a call record with one of our clients who told us: "Silver Valley mining town 1997 house purchase law suit follows non-disclosure of 1,104 ppm lead in soil and lead in attic dust revealed during remodelling. US federal law requires sellers, landlords and realtors to disclose lead hazards." Unfortunately, back then we didn't enter the whole email in the database - just a summary. By 20 July 2000, we were entering the emails and thus I have found the following email sent to the Head of our Technical Advisory Board, Professor Brian Gulson:

Hello Professor Gulson First let me introduce myself.  I am a Project Manager for a Corporation in Concord, California.  I have been performing and managing environmental remediation projects for 23 years.  I have extensive experience in decontamination of commercial buildings and residences. My company has a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to provide environmental remediation across the U.S. and overseas. We have recently received a delivery order from the USACE to perform remediation of lead, arsenic, and mercury contam, for this project, your name was mentioned as a resource regarding methods and techniques for cleaning residential attic spaces for heavy metals contamination. These residences are 120+ years old and have dust from lead mining operations accumulated in the attic spaces that contains heavy metals lead, arsenic, and mercury.  In some cases the lead is 10,000 ppm and the arsenic is up to 800 ppm.  The average mercury contamination is 30-40 ppm. I have suggested that we remove all the insulation from the attics and then vacuum all the dust from the attics with a HEPA vacuum system.  I would then follow up with a lock-down encapsulating sealant in case there are cracks or crevices where the dust cannot be removed. I would like to learn of any other innovative techniques or methods you may have used and the success or lessons learned from those methods.

Professor Gulson asked me to reply and I wrote (in part) on 1 Aug 2000: I hope you will have a read of everything I've written about ceiling dust in my two newsletters [ see LEAD Action News vol 7 no 2 and LEAD Action News Vol 7 no 3 ] and then determine whether that's enough information for your needs or whether you would be better to proceed to writing a protocol for dust removal from attics and crawl spaces, to suit the particular waste disposal guidelines in Montana as well as comply with Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. Fred Salome [ who has run the only ceiling dust removal training course that we know of in the world] and I would be able to assist with the protocol. Is there a smelter in the area, that may be able to extract the lead, arsenic and mercury from the dust waste? [END OF 1 AUG 2000 EMAIL FROM Elizabeth O'Brien to California Contractor]   He wrote back to say: "I am sure that our U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USEPA staff will be ecstatic with that information" but no protocol was ever developed out of this process. Nevertheless we proceeded to mentor the development of an Association for ceiling dust contractors called the Australian Dust Removalists Association and we developed their website at which includes a Code of Practice at I also wrote a slide show presentation for our OH&S state government agency - see Finally that agency web-published a GUIDANCE NOTE FOR CEILING DUSTS CONTAINING LEADI I hope that my extensive online publications on the topic will satisfy your need for references. I was very excited to have received an email enquiry from South Africa this month asking for advice on setting up a ceiling dust removal contractor business. So the word is spreading! Please write back with your progress and keep in touch.

Yours Sincerely Elizabeth O'Brien

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