Lead-based paint, which contains measurable quantities of lead, has the potential to be a health hazard. Use of the paint in residential buildings was outlawed in the late 1970’s, but many older residences may still contain lead-based paint. Read on for general information about lead-based paint and specifics regarding your landlord’s responsibilities in relation to this issue.
The ingestion of lead through lead dust or paint chips poses a significant health hazard; children are more negatively affected than adults because they absorb more lead into their bloodstream. Children can absorb 30 to 75 percent of the lead that reaches their digestive tracts, while adults absorb closer to 11 percent. Lead disrupts brain chemistry, interfering with the function of neurotransmitters. High levels of lead in a child’s bloodstream can lead to brain damage, nervous system problems, learning disabilities, behavioral issues like hyperactivity, stunted growth, hearing issues, and headaches. In adults, lead poisoning can cause reproductive issues (including miscarriage or stillbirth), hypertension, digestive issues, nerve problems, muscle and joint pain, and difficulties remembering information or concentrating. Extremely high levels of lead can cause anemia and affect kidney function, and can so damage the nervous system as to lead to seizures, coma, and death. To determine whether you or a family member may have high lead levels in your blood, talk to your physician about getting a blood test to detect the presence of lead.
Rules & Regulations
It wasn’t until 1978 that the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned paint with more than 0.06 percent lead from being used in new homes. However, by that time, there were already many homes painted with dangerous levels of lead. Despite this danger, it took until 1992 to pass the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, which required property sellers and renters to notify buyers and tenants about lead-based paint and related hazards. In 1996, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency published lead-based paint disclosure regulations that fully implemented the 1992 Act. Potential buyers or tenants must receive a brochure (approved by the EPA) on identifying and addressing lead paint problems, and potential sellers or landlords must disclose all known information regarding lead-based paint on the property. Based on this information, home buyers may have ten days to check for the presence of lead in the home before making a purchasing decision. Renters are not entitled to the same type of time period to verify the presence of lead.
In addition to notifying potential residents of the presence of lead-based paint, landlords may also be required to remove or cover lead-based paint in leased areas, particularly those that will be occupied by children under the age of six. Laws may vary by state, but a New York court held a landlord ultimately responsible for the removal of lead-based paint from a unit he was renting.
When to Worry
Lead-based paint itself is not usually an issue; the paint chips and dust that humans can ingest are the major problem. Lead paint on building exteriors can also leech into soil around the structure, creating hazards for gardeners or for children playing in the dirt. If you’re worried about lead paint in your apartment, inform your landlord, who should hire a professional to do an inspection that will determine whether you have cause to be concerned.
Since you’re an apartment-dweller, the responsibility for maintaining the safety of your home rests with your landlord. If your apartment contains lead-based paint, your landlord should have notified you and should be taking steps to protect your safety. Other precautionary measures you can take include cleaning your apartment carefully to prevent the accumulation of leaded paint chips or dust, removing shoes to avoid tracking in lead-contaminated dirt, preventing children from chewing on painted surfaces, and washing hands frequently to avoid contamination if by chance you have come into contact with lead. If you have young children in your home, it may be safest to simply avoid apartment complexes containing lead-based paint.
If you have concerns about lead-based paint in your living areas, notify your landlord. Your landlord can take steps to test the levels of lead in the apartment complex and, if necessary, eliminate lead paint from all units. Lead paint cannot be gotten rid of with some removal methods, like sanding, as this creates too much dangerous dust. Improper removal can create an even greater health hazard. Your landlord needs to hire a certified lead abatement specialist to safely remove or seal off any lead-based paint, increasing the safety of your living area. Note that working with lead-based paint is dangerous and requires workers to take various precautions of which certified lead removal professionals should be aware.
Should your landlord fail to take action on removing or covering lead-based paint after you inform him or her of your concerns, have a health and safety professional inspect the apartment. If dangerous levels of lead are found, notify your landlord and allow reasonable time to address the problem. If your landlord still doesn’t take action, you may want to move the matter to court. Consult with local tenants’ rights organizations or legal aid to find out what you can do in this situation.
Lead-based paint is a hazard that can be corrected. Knowing about the risks to your health and the responsibilities of your landlord will allow you to live safely and with the assurance that you’ve taken all possible steps to reduce the ability of lead-based paint to affect yourself and your family.