SCRAPE, scrape, scrape. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Gentlemen, we've got to do something about this phony-baloney job!
Some subjects do not lend themselves to pleasantries. Some jobs are so awful that no amount of invective is ever enought. One of these is removing paint. I hate scraping paint.
Yet, it could be worse. Mental anguish aside, I could be doing myself bodily harm. Removing paint can be dangerous.
Many older houses and pieces of furniture - even those painted within the last 10 years - may have coatings of paint containing lead. There is no need to repeat stories of babies eating paint chips. The dangers of lead in paint have been well documented. Many workers continue to develop lead poisoning, however - not from paint peeling off the walls in their apartments, but from dust and fumes they encounter while removing paint.
Robert G. Feldman, professor of neurology and pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine, heads a medical team pursuing the causes and cures of lead poisoning. In the May 18, 1978, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, Feldman cited one such case.
"A 24-year-old man," Feldman wrote, "had worked for three months stripping lead-based paint with a torch and sander from old houes.He came to the hospital because of severe abdominal pain of one week's duration. Before the diagnosis of lead poisoning was made an appendectomy was performed. Physical examination was unremarkable except for a thin, bluish line seen at the gingival margin of several front lower teeth."
Treatment released .01 grams of lead in the man's urine within a 24-hour period.
"Just the other day," said Feldman, "a patient came to me. She was treated last week because she had abdominal paint. She and her husband had moved into an old house. The walls had been scraped down. The scrapings had come down on the floor and the dust hadn't been completely cleaned out. After three weeks, their puppy died of convulsions. They got another dog and he got sick too. They found he had an elevated [lead] blood level. The woman was tested and her blood level was high.
Feldman also cited tests performed by the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries' Division of Occupational Hygiene. The division tested the air where workers were sanding a post that contained 2,5 milligrams of lead per square centimeter. "After 22 minutes," Feldman said, "the air contained .51 milligrans [of lead] per cubic meter. Only five minutes of sanding on inside window sills with a lead content of .8 to .9 milligrams per square centimeter resulted in air that contained .55 milligrams of lead per cubic meter [of air]."
Federal regulations enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require that workers wear a respirator if exposed to more than .05 milligrams of lead per cubic meter of air.
"It might be helpful for your readers to know," said Feldman, "that one flake of leaded paint the size of a finger nail can produce brain swelling in a child."
"I think this problem is going to be much more prevalent among people who are renovating a house," said John Kominsky, an industrial hygienist of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NIOSH) laboratories in Cincinnati. "The possibility of being exposed to lead in paint is very real."
Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, loss of hearing and sight, and death.
There are several tools on the market that remove paint with heat, rather than abrasive action. If used on paints containing lead, says Feldman, "the burning will produce lead oxide fumes. The fumes are not only inhaled by the person where he is working, they can fill the house."
Another way to remove paint, especially from furniture, is with a solvent. Paint-stripping liquids are sold under many brands names in paint and hardware stores. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires extensive labeling on these products because they contain chemicals that present health and often fire hazards.
"Some of the vapors are apt to be toxic," said Carl Olson, president of the Savogran Company, maker of Strip-Eaz paint remover.
Because the vapors are heavier than air, they will sink and "pool" near the floor. In a basement where a furnace or water-heater pilot light is continuously burning, the fumes can ignite. Fumes from non-flammable paint removers can produce harmful gases if exposed to flame.
"You also can get skin burns." said a laboratory scientist with PPG Industries, which makes it own paint remover. "You should definitely wear some kind of eye protector and hand covers."
Authorities suggest that paint removers should be used indoors only where there is "adequate ventilation." This term is used loosely on product labels and means little without an inspection by a ventilation expert.
As a rule, however, the air in the room should be circulating. An open window is not enough. An open window with a fan is better. Out of doors is better still. Nobody likes to wear a respirator, but it can't hurt, especially if you plan to be exposed to solvent fumes on a regular basis. If you are sanding or scraping paint that may contain lead, wear a mask and change it regularly. Good cleanup practices are essential. Food can become contaminated from paint dust left on skin, clothes and hair.
In its June issue, Consumer Reports magazine noted that there are many substitutes for paint-heating devices, solvents, machine sanders, abrasive pads and bars and drill attachments. These are, of course, scrapers.
One of the best, says Consumer Reports, is the "hook" scraper ( $13). The scraper is a razor-like blade, though duller, on a handle. The paint is scraped off by pulling the blade across a flat surface. Other hand scrapers need to be pushed.
There are ways to avoid all this. The Yellow Pages list several experts under furniture repair and furniture strippers. At the Strip Joint in Alexandria, they take an entire end table and soak it in a vat of cold solvent. After a few minutes, workmen take the paint off with brushes and scrapers. (They soak doors, moldings and wood fixtures in hot lye).
The solvent, because it contains no water, is not supposed to loosen joints or raise the grain in wood. Prices range about $10- $15 for chairs; $35- $50 for dinning-room tables; $75- $100 for a china cabinet. Doors are $25, generally, and moldings 30-60 cents a foot.
Chem Clean sprays the solvent in a chemical booth, "like a big dishwasher," said Marshall McLaughlin, manager of the Rockville store. After the furniture is sprayed, it is left out to sit 48 hours for the solvent to evaporate. Dining room chairs run $15; dining room tables $65- $75; china cabinets $75- $80.
Chem Clean also uses lye on doors ( $35), moldings (40 cents to $1.20 a foot, depending on size), shutters ($20 a piece) and kitchen cabinet doors ( $6). Discounts are given for bulk quantities. "We guarantee the pieces will come back stripped and in good condition," McLaughlin said. CAPTION: Picture 1, 2, and 3, At the Strip Joint in Alexandria, Bill Whitman takes a painted headboard for a soaking in solvent before scraping off the old paint.