Law of Lead

The Laws and Regulations of Lead

Lead can be found throughout our environment, in water, air, soil, building materials, and more. Humans who come into contact with lead face great danger because lead exposure can result in compromised health or even death.  Small children are particularly vulnerable and the Centers for Disease Control warns that lead can be found not only in paint, but also in dust and air.


Scientists have known for a long time that lead was dangerous. The history of lead regulation is well documented.

According to The Secret History of Lead: “Lead is poison, a potent neurotoxin whose sickening and deadly effects have been known for nearly 3,000 years and written about by historical figures from the Greek poet and physician Nikander and the Roman architect Vitruvius to Benjamin Franklin. Odorless, colorless and tasteless, lead can be detected only through chemical analysis.”

Early in the 20th century, it was recognized that children who ate lead paint chips were at risk for learning issues, seizures, and possibly even death. It took some time before it was known that lead could also be found in the soil and air.  A timeline shows how lead laws have been put in place over the past hundred years:

1924: Lead gasoline was introduced in 1922 and it was only a short time that several cities (New York, Philadelphia, etc.) banned leaded gasoline after five workers in New Jersey died from lead exposure. Lead particles from gasoline were released into the air when used in engines. However, it was not until 1986 that  lead started to be banned from gasoline after catalytic converters became common. (from The Secret History of Lead)

Despite knowing of the dangers of leaded gasoline, “…a recent report by the government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimated that the burning of gasoline has accounted for 90 percent of lead placed in the atmosphere since the 1920s.” (from The Secret History of Lead)

1930’s: Despite evidence of the harmful effects of lead exposure, industries that used lead were not regulated, with manufacturers even arguing that children who ate lead paint chips were already “sub-normal to start with.”

1970: President Nixon signed into law the Clean Air Act, and tasked the newly-formed Environmental Protection Agency with reducing lead emissions. The Clean Air Act regulated emissions.

1971: The Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act was signed into law by President Nixon. It banned lead-based paint from cooking, eating, or drinking utensils, prohibited the use of lead-based paint in residential structures, and prohibited the use of lead-based paint in toys or furniture.

1976: The Consumer Product Safety Commission was created, and it enacted a ban on all lead-based paint in 1978.

1988: The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 authorized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin programs to eliminated lead exposure in children. As a result, the CDC created the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and it has meant education of the public and the development of programs and policies to prevent lead exposure.

1990: Lead was finally banned from all gasoline (in amendments to the Clean Air Act) but it manufacturers had until 1995 to completely eliminate lead from gasoline.

1992: The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (Title X) was passed, to protect families from exposure to lead in soil, paint, or air.

1996: Lead Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program (Section 1018 of Title X) was passed requiring that potential buyers or renters of homes built before 1978 get specific information about lead and lead hazards before purchase or rental.

2008: The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act was passed. Industries were required to reduce levels of lead to .15 ug/cubic meter after the EPA tightened air emissions. (history of lead regulation) The new standard was 10 times greater than those standards set 30 years before.


Today, there are many regulations in the use of lead. The EPA has formulated a number of lead regulations based on where lead is found in the environment.

  1. SOIL:  Lead occurs naturally in soil although it is more common in urban areas. A normal amount of lead is 10-50 parts per million (ppm) but the EPA says 400 ppm is allowable where children play and 1,000 ppm in other areas.
  2. WATER: The Clean Water Act and Safe Water Drinking Act regulate the amount of lead allowed in water, according to the EPA. One provision of the Clean Water Act is that anyone wanting to discharge pollutants including lead into a water source must have a permit from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The amount of lead in drinking water is regulated by the Lead and Copper Rule. If the concentration of lead exceeds 15 ppb steps must be taken to reduce pipe corrosion.
  3. AIR: Under the Clean Air Act, lead in the air is regulated in two ways:
  1. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) regulate the outdoor air. States also have enacted their own NAAQS standards, apart from the EPA.
  2. As a toxic air pollutant, as in what is discharged in manufacturing. According to the EPA, “Two regulations that focus on limiting lead emissions are the NESHAPs for Primary Lead Smelting and Secondary Lead Smelting. Other NESHAPs control lead that is emitted along with other toxic air pollutants.”


The passage of 1992’s Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 set new rules in place to protect homeowners from lead exposure. It requires the disclosure of lead-based paint in houses built before 1978 when the house is being sold or rented. HUD and the EPA were asked by Congress to develop regulations to enforce the law. The agencies didn’t begin enforcing the law until 1998, but failure to comply can result in a $63,500 fine.

The EPA and HUD have developed a Fact Sheet setting out all the necessary disclosures in housing. It includes Federally-owned housing, private housing and public housing but it doesn’t include housing built before 1977, units without bedrooms, or housing for the elderly or handicapped – unless children live there.

The disclosure to home buyers or buyers of buildings built before 1978 must include a 10 day period for inspection (buyers should get a lead inspection from a certified inspector), and the following:

  • A pamphlet approved by the EPA titled Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home (PDF)
  • Information about the presence of lead-based paint in the home or building
  • A Lead Warning Statement attached to the contract confirming the seller has complied with notification requirements

In 2010 the Renovation Repair and Painting rule (RPR) was passed, mandating that any contractor remodeling an older building (homes, childcare facilities, and preschools built before 1978) must be certified. The EPA requires the work to be done by certified renovators trained by EPA-approved training providers that follow lead-safe work practices. The EPA helps consumers locate certified renovation and lead dust sampling technician firms, to ensure that the firms are in compliance with the RPR rule of the EPA. Even though the additional cost is added to the project, most homeowner who know anything about lead exposure understand the importance of making sure their children aren’t exposed to lead.

Despite the laws and regulations, Americans are still being exposed to lead in the air, water, and soil. Health effects can be subtle and hard to detect. Certified inspections of older buildings are critical to eliminating lead exposure.