Scientists Develops Faster, Inexpensive Field Method to Test Paint for Lead

8-Jun-2010 12:10 PM EDT

RTI International

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Newswise — As part of the effort to reduce childhood lead poisoning, scientists at RTI International, under contract with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have developed a new field method for measuring the amount of lead in paint that is faster and less expensive than current methods.

The new testing method, published online in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, takes approximately 10 minutes and costs $6 per sample.

The new method determines lead content using a selective chemical reaction to separate lead from paint extracts. A simple, portable turbidity meter then measures the amount of light that is 'blocked' by suspended particles in the solution to determine the amount of lead in the original paint sample.

The new EPA Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program rule requires that paint in housing built prior to 1978 be tested for lead before any renovation, repair or painting activities are initiated by contractors or professionals.

"This law has led to the need for lead testing field methods that are easy to perform, inexpensive and take less than one hour for each sample," said William Studabaker, Ph.D., a research analytical scientist at RTI and the project's principle investigator. "Our new turbidimetric method accomplishes that, while avoiding interference from metals and other ions commonly associated with paints."

RTI scientists tested 24 sets of either six or 10 paint samples collected from old houses, a hospital, a tobacco factory and a power station. Half the sets were analyzed using the new testing method and half using microwave extraction and measurement by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy.

The results showed the two methods to be equally effective. The new method meets performance standards of the EPA National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program's Laboratory Quality System Requirements. The method also has the potential to meet the rigorous performance specifications of the EPA Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program rule.

About RTI InternationalRTI International is one of the world's leading research institutes, dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. Our staff of more than 2,800 provides research and technical expertise to governments and businesses in more than 40 countries in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, international development, economic and social policy, energy and the environment, and laboratory and chemistry services. For more information, visit

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