Since joining the Risk Science Center, I have found myself looking at the world through new eyes – it’s what happens when you introduce an economist to a bunch of really smart scientists! This has made for interesting dinner conversation at my house and the start of ‘risk science moments,’ where I come across an everyday decision and wonder how a risk scientist would weigh the evidence. Lucky for me, I can use this blog and our members as a resource to help answer these questions, and I hope this process will help in understanding and illustrating the role of risk science and communication in everyday life.
Our first ‘risk science moment’ has been researching guidelines for renovating homes with lead paint. My husband and I figured that lead paint is nothing new, and that there would be plenty of clear guidance that could help us understand the risks of lead exposure when it comes to our original windows – whether we choose to renovate or leave the paint as is. But we’ve found the massive mix of guidance confusing – and we’re not sure how to evaluate the health risk on this relatively commonplace situation:
- Our 1940s house is in great shape and has all been recently repainted. We assume there’s lead paint under there somewhere but generally no peeling. There are sometimes a few small paint chips in the window sill when we open the window, but the windows have been recently repainted and are in about as good shape as they can be.
- We’d like to replace the original wood windows with more energy-efficient ones (it is Ann Arbor, after all – cold winters!).
In reading guidance on this (admittedly we didn’t read all of the over 100 different pdfs available from the National Lead Information Center, but we’ve read several), two themes emerge:
- If paint is in good shape and not chipping or peeling – leave it alone. The dust generated by renovation would likely cause more potential for exposure than leaving the lead paint as is. (yes, that’s us pretty much us!)
- Where friction is likely to cause scraping (i.e window and door frames)– wipe surfaces frequently and consider replacing older windows, doors in a lead-safe way. (yes, we’re talking about windows, so this is us, too!)
And this is where it’s confusing – both of these standards seem to apply, the first seems to suggest we’re better off (from a lead exposure standpoint) leaving the windows as they are, while the second suggests we should consider replacement.
This leads us to ask: How do the exposure risks compare, if we either: 1) Live for years with windows scraping from friction and potentially producing lead dust, or 2) Replace the windows and have the risk of exposure from the replacement process (assuming it’s all done in a lead-safe way), but then no further daily risk when opening the windows?
I’m asking center members and other experts for advice and what they would do in this situation – and/or to point me to resources that they might use. So far I’ve sought advice from Dr. Niladri Basu, RSC Member and Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, and Tracey Easthope, Environmental Health Director at the Ecology Center. I’ll be posting their thoughts and suggestions in a couple of follow-up pieces.
I am selfishly appreciative of the help, and I hope this and other ‘risk science moments’ further our understanding of risk science in everyday life. I’ll also provide an update here of what we decide to do and why. And of course, if you have any thoughts or advice, please leave your comments below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!