Toxicity, Removal, & Remediation of Lead from Septic Tanks
September 15, 2021

The Legacy of Lead – Toxicity and the Removal and Remediation from Septic Tanks

Written by Alliance Environmental

Are you noticing a bunch of old paint flaking off window and door trimmings at one of your company’s older commercial sites? It might be tempting to think you can scrape it off yourself and let the chips go down the drain. This could be very harmful to the site’s septic system, and adjacent drainage fields.

Lead paint, although it has been banned in the United States since the late 1970s, is still turning up and contaminating aquifers and groundwater via septic tanks. This type of contamination, which deposits lead in the water, is entirely avoidable with the use of certified commercial lead abatement methods.

Why was this highly toxic metal used to make paint in the first place?

As far back as pre-industrial England, paints were incorporated with a lead-based pigment, because it was highly effective and durable in preserving color. Interestingly, the insidious effects of lead poisoning were acutely observed even back then, because the teams of men and women responsible for grinding the lead into powder for mixing into the paint would die of lead poisoning. Eventually, when English inventor Marshall Smith devised a mechanized process for the grinding and mixing of the lead, the paints that resulted would dominate European and North American markets for the next two centuries because of its low cost and effectiveness at mitigating rot in walls. Fast forward to modern day America, where we have sewage treatment systems that did not exist in the days of Marshall Smith and his primitive lead grinding techniques. All that lead would have to go somewhere eventually, right?

Why older paint should be approached with caution?

It turns out that all that lead was really a problem when we started dissolving large amounts of lead in the water with the rise of indoor plumbing. In rural areas, where septic tanks are widely used, lead poisoning emerged because of unknowingly sketchy disposal practices. Suppose you decide to paint your fence one afternoon. When the job is done, you rinse your brushes under the faucet. The lead particulate in the paint does not go away when it travels through the septic tank – all the organic waste is treated, and harmlessly returns into the groundwater, but the lead particulate that becomes dissolved in with it is far from harmless. In children, lead poisoning can cause intellectual disability and seizures. In adults, it can cause organ failure and death. Much of the dissolved lead particulate remains throughout the water cycle and ends up in the drinking water.
What all of this means is, if you are at a commercial site that is not connected to a major urban sewage treatment system, and there are bits of lead lying around (maybe in the form of old chipped paint), do not flush any of it down the toilet or drains. You will ultimately be putting led in the water that residents or livestock will be drinking. Additionally, lead particles can become suspended in the air when one tries to scrape lead paint. If enough of the particulate is inhaled, it will end up in the bloodstream.

How professional commercial lead abatement companies can help?

Lead abatement refers to a general process by which all the lead is physically removed from a site and then taken away for proper disposal at a specially designated waste depot. Many other firms use the highly inferior renovation, repair, and painting (RRP) model. The problem with RRP is that it typically does not remove any of the actual let from the site; it simply coats it in a membrane that prevents it from being dissolved into water. This is a much less expensive solution; however, it will be a determent to the value of the asset in the long run.

Having to re-apply the membrane as it wears off over time is another one of those tedious maintenance tasks that must be monitored and scheduled, often over several periods of employee turnaround. Then there is also the issue of removal and remediation from septic tanks. Some of that lead is always left behind in the tank itself. RRP will not work if this is the case. Only a commercial-led abatement team that adheres to the requirements of the EPA, in accordance with SDWA criteria should be used for this kind of job.

The main reason why abatement is the most expensive is that lead is notoriously difficult to remove safely. The crew members must be always protected in air-tight gowns, the site itself requires negative air pressure containment structures to prevent the diffusion of lead dust particulate, and regular bloodwork monitoring must be done to ensure there is no incidence of unsafe exposure. Additionally, landfills are not a safe means of disposing of lead because the lead will dissolve into the fluids contained in household waste and leach into the adjacent soil. Because its proper disposal must be carried out and managed by professionals, this is another cost-increasing component involved in abatement.

Sometimes doing the most responsible thing involves spending money. At least there are people out there who can ensure that no further damage can be done once a person decides to act. The main thing to do is to be proactive and make the right plans for proper disposal. All these kinds of damaging events are preventable with a little bit of foresight. And, if something goes seriously wrong on a site with a piece of equipment, do not worry – the professionals are a phone call away. There is no such thing as a mess that cannot be cleaned up.

Contact Alliance Environmental, we adhere to the health and safety standards to carry out lead abatement. Get a free estimate on dealing with lead paint, click here to visit our website.

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