Lead-Based Paint Remains a Serious Public Health Concern

Imagine hearing that your once healthy two-year-old has lead poisoning, which may have caused permanent brain damage. It is every parent’s worst nightmare, and a nightmare one of our clients is currently living. When you hear this terrible news, the first questions you may ask is how did this happen? How was my child exposed to lead? Will he ever be back to normal? How could this have been prevented?

Lead-based paint was widely used in the United States because of its durability. In 1972, the federal government banned the manufacture and consumer uses of lead-based house paint after long-term studies showed that lead causes severe health problems, especially in children under six. Exposure to lead can damage the brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, and cause learning and behavior problems, as well as hearing and speech problems.

While lead based paint has been off the market for years, most houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. If the paint is in good condition, it is not hazardous. But when the paint is deteriorated (chipped, chalking, cracking, damaged, or damp) or is scraped, sanded or heated during home repairs or renovations, it can quickly become a very serious health hazard. Lead paint chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch, as well as spread throughout the air.

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, aiming to protect the public from lead-based paint hazards associated with renovation, repair and painting activities. Under the rule, beginning April 22, 2010, businesses performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and kindergartens built before 1978 must be EPA- or state-certified and must use certified renovators who follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. This includes in-house maintenance staff and many types of outside contractors.

In our case, our client was unknowingly living in a home with lead-based paint. In the summer of 2018, she put in a service request to the property management company, asking them to replace a broken window in their child’s bedroom and fix several others. The property management company knew about the lead-based paint, and was familiar with the hazards, as it managed over 950 properties in the area. Nevertheless, the company sent a maintenance worker who, among other things, scraped and chipped away lead-based paint around the windows of the home, without following proper and required lead safety practices, causing hazardous lead dust to spread across the two-year old’s bedroom, his toys, clothing, and across the second floor where the children played.

When lead is scattered in the air as a dust it can be inhaled and absorbed through your lungs. The dust particles can be very difficult to detect and can unknowingly be left on toys. When thinking about the circumstances where a child could ingest lead-based dust particles, I cannot help but look to my experiences with my own two-year-old son, Dominick, who like all toddlers, puts everything in his mouth.

Unfortunately, there is no way of reversing the neurological damage done by lead poisoning, which is why pediatricians emphasize prevention. The EPA has estimated that following proper lead procedures adds between $35 and $376 to the cost of a job. Given the potentially catastrophic injuries that can result, landlords and property management companies must take the EPA’s RRP Rule seriously and ensure their maintenance workers and contractors have the required lead safety training and certifications to protect their tenants as well as their employees.



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