Lead Poisoning No. 1 Environmental Threat to Children Ages Six and Younger in the U.S.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared Oct. 23-30, 2011 Lead Poisoning Prevention Week as part of the agency’s on-going efforts to make families aware of the hazards presented by lead and lead-based paint in the home and places where children under six years of age are regularly present.

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in paint and other products found in and around our homes. Beginning in 1978, lead-based paint was banned from residential use, leaded gasoline has been eliminated, and household plumbing is no longer made with lead materials.

Lead is a major environmental health hazard for young children. Research shows that blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) in young children can result in lowered intelligence, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, and antisocial behavior. However, there currently is no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood, and adverse health effects can occur at lower concentrations.      

If caught early, these effects can be limited by reducing exposure to lead or through medical treatment. Children under six years of age are particularly at risk and pregnant women should avoid exposure to lead as the effects can be passed on to the child.

If your home was built before 1978, lead still may be present. The most common source of household lead exposure is through deteriorating lead-based paint.  

EPA's Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Paint Rule (RRP) became effective on April 22, 2010. Under the RRP, anyone paid to work on residences built before 1978 and/or facilities where children under the age of six are regularly present (such as daycare centers, schools, clinics, etc.) are required to be Certified Lead Safe by EPA and must be trained to follow specific work practices to reduce lead contamination, and provide the EPA publication "Renovate Right" to owners and/or residents prior to the commencement of the work.

The rule applies when the renovation or repair disturbs six sq. ft. of interior (about the size of a standard poster) or 20 sq. ft (about the size of a standard door) of exterior painted surfaces.
The rule does not apply to individuals doing work on their personal residences. However, EPA recommends that lead-safe work practices be used by individual homeowners whenever possible.

Recognizing that families have a right to know about lead-based paint and potential lead hazards in their homes, EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development developed the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule which has been in effect since 1996.

The Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule requires that both the owners of residential rental properties and the sellers of residential property built before 1978, disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before a lease or sale takes effect. Sales contracts and leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards. Further, landlords and sellers must also provide the EPA publication "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home."