Although lead paint was banned by law in 1978 there are still dangers from lead exposure in many American homes. Dangers still exist, from lead pipes contaminating water, to lead dust in the soil around the home.
Despite the very real dangers of lead, not all firms are renovating properly.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ): “On September 28, 2016 the and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with Sears Home Improvement Products Inc. that resolves alleged violations of the RRP rule for work performed by Sears’ contractors during home renovation projects across the country.”
- Moreover, as recently as October 17, 2016, the EPA fined a Portland, Oregon based remodeling firm, $69,398, for failing to comply with federal lead-based paint rules.
THE MOST VULNERABLE — CHILDREN
Sadly, experts agree that there is no safe amount of lead in children’s bodies. The history of lead exposure in children is long and horrifying. The paint industry was very powerful for decades and fought efforts to ban lead paint or even to minimize the use of it. Even coloring books handed out to children contained lead-based paint.
“When public health officials in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago tried to enact regulations in the 1950s that threatened the industry’s interests, lobbyists visited legislators and governors to get restrictions lifted. They succeeded. When Baltimore’s health department called for the removal of lead from paint, the industry countered by proposing and winning a “voluntary” standard, reducing the lead content in paint. When New York City’s health department proposed a warning label saying that the product was poisonous to children, the industry rejected the “poison” label and lobbied successfully for another label that simply advised parents not to use it on “toys, furniture, or interior surfaces that might be chewed by children,” and deliberately avoided mentioning that lead paint was poisonous.” (Source: The Atlantic)
But with the ban on lead paint in 1978, after decades of controversy, all that was supposed to be over.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as of just a few years ago, lead paint is still the single most significant environmental health threat to American children. Children are very vulnerable because they get dirty and put dirt or dust containing lead into their mouths. Small children will eat paint chips or dirt containing lead.
Paint gets into children’s bodies not just through paint chips, but through paint fumes, and particles of paint as fine as dust, dispersed in the wind.
Children may be exposed to lead in other places than home. Some children spend time in buildings (grandparents’ homes, daycares, churches) built before the ban on lead paint. Paint used on roadways may still contain lead. Fumes from that paint or dust particles containing that paint can still be inhaled.
According to the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro: “We have an obligation to the families we serve to protect their children,” Castro continued. “By aligning our standard with the one used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we can act more quickly and make certain the homes we support are as safe as possible.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.”
Even though lead-based paint was banned for use in homes in 1978, according to HUD data, almost 130,000 HUD-assisted homes are in use today where a child less than six years old is being exposed to lead-based paint. To eliminate that danger, HUD is proposing a new rule. According to HUD, the new rule would lower HUD’s reference level for lead in a young child’s blood from 20 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to five. “By lowering HUD’s reference level to conform to CDC’s, the Department will be able to intervene more quickly to stop the negative impact lead can have on the lives of children,” HUD said in a statement.
Homes are not the only places children can be exposed to lead. According to Occupational Knowledge International: “ Both children and adults are exposed to lead paint so-called “industrial” applications used on roads, highways, steel structures, industrial buildings, automobiles and other vehicles, and farm equipment. Exposures result when these paints deteriorate and contribute to dust and soil contamination, or when the paint is removed during routine maintenance. In addition, workers are exposed to lead during construction and repainting and often take home lead dust on their hands, hair, shoes, cars and clothes. Many cases of childhood lead poisoning can be attributed to “take home” lead exposures from these sources. Furthermore, industrial paints can be applied to homes, schools, or consumer products.”
Children don’t stay inside all the time, however. Hazards are outside, too.
The City of Portland Oregon recently started a program to replace playground equipment painted with lead paint before 1980, recognizing the dangers. Between 2005 and 2011 the city removed more than 60 items of playground equipment that had tested positive for lead. Lead-based paint was previously used on play equipment prior to 1980. This isn’t necessarily a problem until paint deteriorates and poses an exposure risk from inhalation of dust or ingestion of paint chips.
The city recognizes that “If a piece of play equipment tests positive for lead-based paint, PP&R will conduct an exposure risk assessment by a Certified Lead Risk Assessor. If the risk assessment requires equipment to be taken out of service as soon as possible, PP&R [the city parks and recreation folks] will fence off or remove the equipment within 72 hours.”
EFFECTS OF LEAD EXPOSURE
Exposure to lead has been caused to affect children in many ways: impairing growth, impairing cognitive functioning and learning, causing behavior problems, and of course the more exposure the worse the effects – leading in some cases to organ failure or even death.
However, children are not the only ones affected by lead exposure. Lead causes many terrible health problems in adults and even smaller levels of lead are linked to high blood pressure. Lead exposure is also associated with at least 674,000 deaths every year around the world. Even relatively “low” levels of lead in pregnant women can result in reduced fetal growth and low birth weight babies.
MINIMIZING EXPOSURE TO LEAD
There are a number of ways parents and caregivers can minimize the exposure of a child to lead, according to the CDC:
- Talk to the health department or someone from the EPA about getting a lead inspector to inspect your home. The EPA also offers assistance to consumers looking for an inspector.
- Make sure that your children do not put hands in mouths or chew anything in an older building where there may be lead-based paint.
- Keep children out of older homes where renovations are taking place.
- If you are in an older home where lead abatement is happening, keep the work areas behind closed and locked doors, or sturdy barriers.
- Wash children’s hands before they eat, and teach them early about the importance of washing hands often.
- Wet mop floors and wipe down window sills with a wet cloth. Windows that are open can let in lead dust from miles away.
- Do not let children play on bare ground, especially around older buildings. Lead in soil is a real threat.
The best way to keep everyone safe from lead exposure from paint (or any source) is to be aware of your surroundings. Minimize the dangers by avoiding old buildings, construction sites, renovation sites, and anywhere that might have equipment manufactured or painted before 1980.