Daniel Locher, Lead Test Expert

Daniel LocherDaniel Locher has a BA in biology from Saint Mary's University in Winona, Minnesota, and has been employed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) since 1994. He started with the lead program in 1999 as an inspector and lead risk assessor.

Daniel is currently the supervisor of the MDH Asbestos and Lead Compliance Program, which is part of MDH's Indoor Environments and Radiation division. The program consists of nine individuals covering both asbestos and lead areas as it relates to accreditation, compliance assistance and education, compliance monitoring and enforcement activities.

His certification and training in the field of lead includes: licensed risk assessor, lead supervisor, asbestos supervisor, inspector, management planner, and project designer, and radon measurement and mitigation.

What initially sparked your interest in becoming a lead expert?
It came about by chance as compared to one who enters with interest in a given environmental field dealing with regulations. My initial experience in the lead field dealt with investigating elevated blood lead cases involving children (less than 6 years of age) living in older housing. I would say that sparked my interest.

Older homes are often notorious for their layers of lead-based paint. Are there any materials used in newer buildings that may contain lead of which homeowners should be made aware?
Homeowners should be aware that the federal regulations (e.g. US Consumer Product Safety Commission) prohibit the sale or use of lead in consumer house paints to 0.06% (since 1978). The materials used in new construction do not contain lead. However, certain components employed in the roof system may have lead metal incorporated into the design (e.g. gutter components or plumbing stacks). These products are usually required as part of a specification for the construction process but typically would not create a health hazard to people living in the home.

Consumers are able to have their homes tested for lead professionally, or they may purchase at-home testing kits. Do you recommend one method over the other?
MDH gets a lot of questions from homeowners on the issue of testing paint. The chemical test kits (e.g. Lead Check) top the list due to their low cost and quick results. We advise homeowners and contractors that the chemical test kits (note: two common test kits are based on chemical reactions involving sodium rhodizonate or the sulfide ion) are useful for screening purposes only. Since there are instances where false results are reported, we recommend analytical testing of the paint. The best method for determining the concentration or percentage of lead in paint is by using a qualified laboratory with trained personnel or by hiring a licensed lead inspector or risk assessor to analyze the paint with x-ray fluorescence instrument (XRF). For homeowners interested in collecting their own paint chip samples, we provide education and guidance on proper paint chip sample collection as well as laboratory information.

What types of equipment are necessary to conduct a professional lead test?
For a professional conducting paint chip sampling, it should be noted that chip sampling is a destructive method that may release a small quantity of lead dust. We recommend that paint chip samples be collected from an inconspicuous area.

Paint chip sampling tools and materials include:
  • Sharp metal paint scraper (found in hardware stores)
  • Disposable wet wipes for cleaning paint scraper
  • Disposable latex or non-latex gloves
  • Non-sterilized 50 mL polypropylene centrifuge tubes (that can be rinsed quantitatively for paint chip samples), or Ziplock baggies can be used since results are to be reported in μg/g or percent by weight
  • Ladder (for ceilings or areas out of reach)
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Flashlight
  • Adhesive tape
In the case of testing the paint with an XRF, you are looking at a considerable cost for the specialized instrument such as in the case of the Thermo Niton Xlp; costs around $20,000 depending on how many bells and whistles you desire. The advantage of the XRF sampling method is that it’s a non-destructive method and the test results are immediate and accurate.

The aforementioned list still applies with the exception of the metal paint scraper, wet wipes, disposable gloves and sample tubes or bags. A ladder will still come into use since one would need to access areas that are out of reach.

How can a person tell if they have been exposed to a significant amount of lead? Are there any noticeable symptoms?
Typically, lead poisoning usually does not cause symptoms until the level of lead in your blood is very high. One of the challenges of determining whether or not a person has been exposed to a significant amount of lead is that the physical symptoms are flu-like; it’s difficult to discern whether or not a person has lead poisoning or a flu virus. The general physical symptoms in children and adults includes stomachaches, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, persistent, unexplained fatigue, headache and muscle weakness.

Are there any certain geographic locations where lead may be particularly prevalent in a consumer's water or soil?
In terms of lead in drinking water, there are no designated geographic areas in Minnesota, let alone the United States. In the case of private water wells, the sand point at the end of the well shaft is composed of a brass alloy that in some cases contains lead.

Lead is naturally present in all soils, generally in the range of 15 to 40 parts lead per million parts of soil (ppm) or milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) but tends to higher in concentrations in established urban environments throughout the United States. The major cause of soil contamination by lead in populated areas is the weathering, chipping, scraping, sanding and sand-blasting of structures bearing lead-based paint. The use of tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock ingredient in gasoline from the 1920s to the 1970s contributed to higher than background levels of lead in urban soil. The use of lead arsenate as an insecticide in fruit orchards throughout Minnesota may have contributed to higher than normal soil levels in non-urban areas.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for homeowners who wish to get their homes tested for lead?
Our advice to homeowners is to spend time and get educated on web-based information as it relates to testing the home for lead. MDH consults with concerned homeowners who have questions on lead testing, approved labs and organizations that provide lead testing services.

For more, visit the MDH lead program website: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/fs/rohtesting.pdf. This fact sheet provides general information as it relates to paint testing in the older home. There is an additional fact sheet for homeowners who are interested in having a risk assessment done in their home at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/fs/islead.pdf.

Do you have any advice or suggestions about how to avoid or prevent lead poisoning?
One of the startling facts about lead poisoning is that it is entirely preventable. Education and knowledge is essential in terms of defeating this insidious disease. If you live in an older house (pre-1978) and have young children, it is possible that you have lead paint that is in poor condition. The best suggestion for parents of children who live in older housing is to get blood lead tests for each child.

Additional information on lead poisoning prevention is located at the MDH lead program website http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/fs/index.html.

For more on lead testing, please read our Lead Test Guide, or to find a lead test or test provider, visit our Lead Test Directory.

 


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