Lead paint and dust in the home are dangerous to children
Before it was banned in household paints in 1978, lead was a common ingredient in paints applied to both the interior and exterior of homes. If your home was built before 1978, it is likely to contain at least some lead-based paint. Lead-based paint in the home is especially dangerous when it deteriorates. Dust is created when paint is worn down — such as on sliding windows, stairs, and railings — and can be inhaled or swallowed by your child. Children can handle or eat lead in paint that is chipping, flaking, or peeling. Home-repair activities that disturb painted surfaces, can create chips or dust, and can also expose children to lead.
Outside your home, children can be exposed to lead by playing in dirt that has been contaminated by lead paint that has chipped or peeled from your house’s exterior.
Lead is highly toxic, especially to children under seven years old. No safe blood-lead level in children has been identified. Even small amounts can cause many health problems, including causing decreases in your child’s ability to learn and read, attention deficits, hyperactivity, irritability, and other behavioral problems. Many of lead’s health effects can be permanent. At high levels, lead can cause brain damage and even death.
Has your child been exposed to lead?
New York law requires that your child be tested for lead by a health care provider at one year of age and again at two years of age. In addition, at every well-child visit up to age six, health care providers must ask you about any contact your child might have had with lead and test again if there has been a chance of exposure.
Because it often occurs with no obvious symptoms, lead poisoning frequently goes unrecognized in children. A blood test is the only way to determine if your child has been exposed to lead. In general, if you have any concerns about your child and lead, ask your health care provider if your child should be tested. Be sure to follow up and ask what the test results mean.
Making your home more lead safe
The best way to protect your child from lead in the home is to limit their potential contact with it:
- Immediately repair any peeling, flaking, or chipping paint in your home, or areas — such as window frames — where the paint is wearing down. If you are doing the repairs yourself, call your local health department to find out about using lead-safe methods of home repair.
- Wash your child’s hands and toys frequently, as they may become contaminated with lead dust.
- Use mops, cloths, and paper towels, dampened with water, to clean windowsills, window wells and other horizontal surfaces throughout your home every two to three weeks.
- Create barriers to keep your child away from lead hazards if you cannot immediately fix deteriorating paint surfaces. Close and lock doors to rooms with chipping, flaking, or peeling paint — or use contact paper or duct tape to temporarily cover the deteriorating surfaces.
- Check the exterior of your home, including porches and fences, for cracking, flaking, peeling, or otherwise deteriorating paint that may contaminate soil in your yard with lead. To avoid tracking lead-contaminated soil into your home, place doormats outside and inside all entryways and remove your shoes before entering. In addition, do not allow children to play in areas where soil may be contaminated.
Paying for testing
For families with private insurance, lead screening for children at high risk of exposure is covered under the federal Affordable Care Act. Check with your insurance provider to find out what is included in your plan. In addition, Medicaid pays for lead testing for all enrolled children. You can also contact your county health department to see if it offers lead-testing clinics or testing for children who lack health-insurance coverage.
For more information about having your child tested for lead, contact the New York State Department of Health at 800-458-1158 or visit the Department of Health's website.
Know your rights
Whether you rent, own, or are planning to buy a home, be aware of your rights. Lead-hazard-protection laws require:
- Landlords must maintain safe conditions in your home. If you are concerned that lead-based paint in your home may present a health hazard, discuss necessary repairs with your landlord. If you are unsatisfied with your landlord’s response, contact an attorney or a legal aid services office (visit Law Help NY's website to find free legal aid assistance programs near you).
- Property sellers and landlords must disclose known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards to buyers or renters of pre-1978 housing.
- Contractors performing renovation, repair, and painting projects in homes built before 1978 are to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and follow specific work practices to prevent lead exposure.
If you believe anyone is violating these laws, contact your county health department or contact the EPA at 1-800-424-5323.
If you or your landlord are using a contractor to perform improvements that may disturb lead-based paint in your home, make sure they use an EPA-certified lead-safe contractor. You can find a list of lead-safe contractors in your area at the EPA's locator for certified firms for renovation and lead-dust sampling.
Children and pregnant women should not be present in homes during renovation, repair, and painting projects that may disturb lead-based paint.
Office of the New York State Attorney General
Environmental Protection Bureau information
Environmental Protection Bureau
New York City: 212-416-8446
The following federal, state, and local government resources will provide you with more information about protecting your child from household lead paint poisoning:
New York State Department of Health
Lead poisoning prevention
Centers for Disease Control lead poisoning prevention
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
For listings of lead safe contractors