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X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Testing

Lead Paint and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Testing

April 15, 2021

Lead Paint

Does your home or business have lead paint? How about your child’s daycare facility? Where is the lead and how bad can it be? These are just a few of the questions people have regarding lead in their environment, and with good reason. We have all heard that lead is bad for our health. As a heavy metal, lead gets into our bloodstream through ingestion or inhalation. There, it can cause harm throughout our bodies and especially our nervous systems. In adults, these effects can be temporary resulting in headache, poor memory, loss of judgement, or stomach pain to name a few. There can be more detrimental effects such as high blood pressure, muscle pain, or even reduced fertility or miscarriage. When adult exposure stops, these symptoms and issues usually subside without permanent damage as lead leaves the body through urine. In stark contrast, lead exposure in the rapidly developing body of a child can have life-long implications such as reduced IQ and developmental delay.

To make matters worse, lead paint was used widely for years for its durability and affordability. It was banned in 1978 but it is still present in many commercial, residential, and industrial buildings. Lead paint isn’t always bad, as long as it remains in good condition without chipping, flaking, or dust. Of course, painters must be very careful not to sand or scrape lead paint without the proper precautions.

All of this can be overwhelming, especially to parents, renters, and homeowners who are worried about the safety of their children. The good news is that environmental professionals have developed a reliable, fast way to detect lead paint in our built environment: X-Ray Fluorescence testing.

X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Testing

X-Ray Fluorescence (or XRF as it is usually abbreviated) sounds complicated, but it is quite simple! So how does it work? An X-Ray beam is shot at a painted surface and based on the number and intensity of X-Rays that come back, we can determine if a painted surface is lead-containing or not. So, what does it mean for paint to be lead-containing? The EPA defines lead-based paint as a surface coating that contains greater than 1.0 milligrams per centimeter squared (mg/cm2) of lead. Cities and States can set their own standards which may be stricter than the federal standard. For instance, Philadelphia sets its lead paint standard at 0.7 mg/cm2.

So, do we have to lug a big, dangerous X-Ray machine around to see if there’s lead in your home? Fortunately, not. A typical XRF unit looks like a ray gun with a touch screen on it. The unit can be held with one hand and operated by the squeeze of a trigger. Information about the painted surface is entered into the touch screen to be downloaded onto a computer along with lead results later. This information includes location, color, and condition to name a few. Once the identifying information is properly entered, The XRF unit is held flush against a painted surface and the trigger is pulled. This causes a shutter to open, and the X-Rays are bounced off the surface in question. The XRF has an onboard computer that statistically analyzes the X-Ray beam and displays the result on the screen. Results are instantaneous, typically within seconds.

During a lead inspection, the XRF can be used to test hundreds of representative surfaces in a building as is required by HUD for daycares and housing facilities. Commercial or industrial clients may opt for a more focused approach when specific surfaces will be disturbed as part of renovations to comply with workers’ exposure laws under OSHA. If the surface contains lead, it must be treated in a specific way to minimize the generation of dust to reduce exposure. Certified lead workers use methods such as plastic drop cloths, water, HEPA vacuums, and PPE (dust mask and disposable coveralls) to minimize exposure to themselves and others.

Additional Lead Testing Methods

The XRF is a powerful tool for VERTEX’s team of Licensed Lead Inspectors/Risk Assessors, but it is not the only thing to be considered when lead is a concern. Lead dust testing is useful to determine if dangerous lead dust is present on floors or other horizontal surfaces such as windowsills. Water and soil can also be tested to make sure there is no potential exposure from them. These methods require lab analysis and typically take several days to generate results.

How Can VERTEX Help?

With all of these tools at our disposal, VERTEX can determine if an exposure risk is present for building occupants. The goal is to keep you, your coworkers, and your loved ones safe from the dangers of lead.

To learn more about VERTEX’s Industrial Hygiene & Building Sciences services or to speak with an Environmental Expert, call 888.298.5162 or submit an inquiry.


Joseph Anello
Division Manager, Air Quality

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