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Portland Requires Contractors To Protect Neighbors From Lead Paint


Portland City Council closed a major loophole in regulations protecting children from exposure to lead in paint.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the council voted to require crews to limit the spread of lead dust and asbestos when they demolish homes built before 1978.

Lead-based paint in homes is the leading cause of lead poising in the nation.

Remodeling an old home can trigger federal requirements to prevent exposure to lead paint. 

But until the council’s vote, similar rules did not apply when homes were demolished.  

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly introduced the ordinance. It adopts a number of best practices for lead-based paint that were developed by the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Environmental Quality. 

“Lead poising is 100 percent preventable,” Eudaly said. “That’s why I proposed this policy work at [Bureau of Development Services], and that’s why I’m bringing it forward today.”

Most significantly, the city’s new ordinance requires contractors to remove exterior siding and other painted materials before they demolish an old home. 

It also requires contractors to develop a plan to control dust and debris and to notify neighbors on properties within 300 feet of the demolition site. It also prohibits mechanical demolition activities when the wind is blowing more than 25 mph.

The rules apply to residential homes, duplexes and structures of up to four dwelling units. They also apply to demolition of accessory structures like garages and outbuildings more than 200 square feet. 

In the last 15 years, about 1,300 Portland homes have been demolished, most of which likely contained lead paint.

As construction in Portland boomed and the pace of demolitions picked up, residents began to demand better protection from the clouds of contaminated dust that can drift onto neighboring properties.

While Portland has chosen to curb possible lead exposure to neighbors during home demolitions, the regulatory loopholes remain in other Oregon cities. 

Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 871, a law that gives cities the authority to regulate lead paint during home demolitions. Lawmakers also directed state agencies to develop a set of best practices to limit lead and asbestos debris during demolition.

The Legislature stopped short of adopting a statewide requirement that contractors mitigate lead dust because some cities feared being stuck with an unfunded mandate. 

“I see a real model for the rest of the state. If the city of Portland can do this right, I can see other cities taking this up and taking this on,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who spoke in favor of the ordinance. 

Portland is hiring two new inspectors who will be dedicated to the program. The Bureau of Development Services will fund those positions by adding $180 to the cost of a demolition permit.

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