By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Lead poisoning has hit the headlines during the past few months because of the situation in Flint, Michigan, where citizens have been overwhelmed by a huge, toxic-water problem. Portland, fortunately, does not have problems with lead in its water, but its denizens should be aware of lead-based paint.
Lead-based paint was for all practical purposes the only kind of paint used on homes throughout the United States until 1978. About 80 percent of homes in Multnomah County were built before 1978. Those are two of the many facts you will learn when you listen to a presentation by Ryan Barker on lead poisoning prevention.
Barker is a community educator who works for the Community Energy Project, a non-profit organization that teaches Portlanders how to maintain healthy, livable homes; control utility costs; and conserve natural resources.
Barker gives workshops about the hazards of lead poisoning. The workshops, offered throughout the Portland metro area, are free of charge and open to everyone.
“We talk about the sources of lead poisoning, and the main one is paint,” said Barker. “If paint becomes degraded and chips or creates dust, it can be easily ingested. So, for example, if a family lives in an apartment that was built in 1960 and the paint is cracking and they have a young child crawling around, the child can get the dust on its body or on its toys and then ingest small particles.”
Another area that Barker discusses is the hazards of lead poisoning and recent research.
“A lot of research shows that children exposed to lead paint will have learning disabilities and behavioral problems, such as impulse control,” explained Barker. “Some may act out violently later in life. Studies have shown that kids who have been in juvenile detention in Pennsylvania have had higher levels of lead in their bodies. The long-term effects of lead poisoning are well known. People lose the ability to use their limbs. They have hearing problems, high blood pressure and an increased chance of Alzheimer’s.”
In his workshop, Barker teaches how to find out how old a home or apartment building is. If it was built before 1978, he tells how to test it for lead paint. For renters, he describes ways to communicate with landlords and what to do if a landlord refuses to do any repairs.
“If your house has lead paint, you should try to stabilize it,” remarked Barker. “If you have to sand it, you should use wet sand paper or a sanding sponge. Or you can hook up a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter to a vacuum on a power sander. If you try to burn lead paint, it releases fumes that masks do not filter out. However, there are environmentally safe painter strippers.”
Barker pointed out that there are no lead pipes in the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) service area. By 1990 all of the lead service pipes were removed.
“There’s only a very small possibility that Portlanders would get lead from their drinking water and that would be from lead pipes in their homes or apartments. Lead solder was banned on drinking water pipes in 1986. If the pipes were put in before 1986 there is a possibility that the copper pipes were connected with lead solder. In that case, lead could leach out in small particles. You can get a free drinking water test that is available from the PWB, if your house was built before 1986.”
Bernieta Sherman, a homeowner who lives in Irvington, found Barker’s workshops very valuable.
“I went to the class because I received a lead grant from the Portland Housing Bureau,” said Sherman. “I learned a lot. I had known how toxic lead is, but didn’t give it a lot of thought. My house was built in 1925 and every wall and closet has lead paint. I have a grandchild over and want to make sure that everything here is absolutely safe, because the effects of lead poisoning are terrible.”
Upcoming workshops will take place at 6 p.m. on March 15 and April 12 at the Community Energy Project offices (2900 S.E. Stark St., Suite A), and at 3 p.m. on Saturday April 30 at the Belmont Library, 1038 S.E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. For more information, visit communityenergyproject.org.