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ORNL conducting field test of instruments to detect lead

Instruments and methods to detect lead in house dust will get a tryout at a field verification event conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Nov. 5-9 in Hartford, Conn.

Representatives from six companies will be participating in the test, which will help them assess how well their field-portable gear detects lead in dust. Better and less expensive instruments can help speed the identification and cleanup of lead-laden dust in homes.

Nearly 1 million children in the United States have lead levels in their blood that are high enough to cause irreversible damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Lead poisoning affects virtually every system in the body and often occurs with no distinctive symptoms. Lead can damage a child's central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system and, at higher levels, can cause coma, convulsions and death.

"In houses that contain lead-based paint, as the paint breaks down with age it releases paint chips and lead dust that can easily be ingested by young children," said Roger Jenkins of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division. "In the past, the focus was on lead chips, but the EPA has been expanding its scope to look at lead dust."

The evaluation is part of the EPA's Environmental Technology Verification program. The goal of the program, for which ORNL is a verification organization, is to accelerate the use of innovative technologies in the field.

"The program exists to provide high-quality and credible performance data through third-party organizations to those involved in the approval, selection, purchase and use of environmental technologies," Jenkins said.

Companies that will be participating in the test are Innov-X Systems of Massachusetts, Key Master Technologies of Washington, Monitoring Technologies International of the United Kingdom, Niton Corp. of Massachusetts, Palintest USA of Kentucky and Radiation Monitoring Devices of Massachusetts. Niton Corp. will be testing two instruments.

The test measures capabilities of commercially available portable technologies capable of measuring lead on dust wipe samples. Vendors will blindly analyze 160 dust wipe samples containing known amounts of lead, ranging in concentration from less than 2 to 1,500 micrograms per wipe. The samples will include wipes archived from previous rounds of testing under the Environmental Lead Proficiency Analytical Testing program.

Samples will have been prepared from dust collected in households in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Additional samples will be provided by the University of Cincinnati. 

ORNL's Amy Dindal stressed that this isn't a contest. The focus is on evaluating instruments and techniques and getting useful technologies into the field to help speed the identification and cleanup of lead.

The instrument performance verification program began at ORNL in 1997. It has been highly successful in that it provides unbiased measures of performance, which manufacturers find extremely valuable. In some cases, they've been able to improve the design of the instruments.

Performance reports will be provided to the participants and will be posted on the Web by early spring. More information about EPA's lead poisoning prevention program is available on the Web at

ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.