Recent awareness and discussion of Guilford County’s 2005 lead paint ordinance has challenges that could pertain to a majority of homeowners in the county, including historic homes. Lead paint, quite possibly present in all structures built before its use was outlawed in 1978, can lead to risk for children who ingest the material. As citizens throughout the community demand safe housing for all county residents, what is an appropriate treatment for historic residences in which wood moldings and doors contribute so much to their craftsmanship and quality?
The issue of lead poisoning is not new. Leaded gasoline and lead in pencils were issues when I was a kid in the 1970s, but the awareness of the issues involving existing lead paint began to gain traction in the early 1990s. Immediately, federal health, housing, and preservation agencies began to work together to better understand the issues and to prescribe a solution to remedy any dangers that be present to residents of lead-painted homes.
By 1995, the National Park Service of the US Department of the Interior released a public guide to address issues of lead paint in historic homes. Entitled “Appropriate Methods for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing," the Preservation Brief premised that:
“historic housing can be made lead-safe for children without removing significant decorative features and finishes, or architectural trimwork that may contribute to the building's historic character.”
Debate here in Guilford County has been heightened since 2005, when the Guilford County Department of Public Health adopted the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Regulations. Guilford is currently the only county in North Carolina to have local regulations that are more stringent than the state concerning lead-based paint. This coming January, NC Department of Environmental Resources, Children’s Environmental Health Branch, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Harvard University will be conducting an evaluation of the Guilford County program to determine the efficacy of its regulations.
In the meantime, the federal Preservation Brief contains valuable information that could go far in establishing a solution to local issues. As the Brief states:
“Typical health department guidelines call for removing as much of the surfaces that contain lead-based paint as possible. This results in extensive loss or modification of architectural features and finishes and is not appropriate for most historic properties. A great number of federally-assisted housing programs are moving away from this approach as too expensive and too dangerous to the immediate work environment. A preferred approach, consistent with The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, calls for removing, controlling, or managing the hazards rather than wholesale-or even partial-removal of the historic features and finishes. This is generally achieved through careful cleaning and treatment of deteriorating paint, friction surfaces, surfaces accessible to young children, and lead in soil. Lead-based paint that it not causing a hazard is thus permitted to remain, and, in consequence, the amount of historic finishes, features and trimwork removed from a property is minimized. “
The Brief reviews several different treatments, such as encapsulating lead pain in modern latex paint, or removing paint from chipped or mouthable trim such as windows sills. The Brief concludes with the statement:
“Reducing and controlling lead hazards can be successfully accomplished without destroying the character-defining features and finishes of historic buildings. Federal and state laws generally support the reasonable control of lead-based paint hazards through a variety of treatments, ranging from modified maintenance to selective substrate removal. The key to protecting children, workers, and the environment is to be informed about the hazards of lead, to control exposure to lead dust and lead in soil, and to follow existing regulations. In all cases, methods that control lead hazards should be selected that minimize the impact to historic resources while ensuring that housing is lead-safe for children.”
Our local initiatives can come together on this issue. The Guilford County Department of Public Health is trailblazing in its initiatives, but let’s see that these ordinances not be at the unnecessary loss of Greensboro’s cultural and historic treasures.