Signing the lease for my apartment in Boulder, Colorado, was not an economical process. In total, the Residence Lease, Rental Unit Disclosures, Homeowner Association Rules and Regulations forms, and assorted addenda, amount to some 21 pages. Of course, it’s good to know where everyone stands so court cases and evictions don’t ensue. The prohibitions on hanging garments from the windows, taking air mattresses into the swimming pool, decking out the apartment with liquid-filled furniture, and keeping reptiles and exotic pets are now quite clear.
One wad of papers deserved closer scrutiny – the ‘disclosure of information on lead-based paint or hazards.’ The opening paragraph reads: ‘Lead Warning Statement…Housing built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Lead from paint, paint chips and dust can pose health hazards if not managed properly. Lead exposure is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. Before renting pre-1978 housing, lessors must disclose the presence of known lead-based paint and/or lead-based hazards in the dwelling. Lessees must also receive a federally approved pamphlet on lead poisoning prevention.’
My landlord faithfully disclosed that she had no knowledge of lead-based paint being used on the building and that she had repainted the apartment twice. My room mate, who has resided within its four walls for a year and shows no sign of physical malaise, said he thought it was all fine. I signed on the dotted line, but since I’ve never given much thought to lead-related hazards (I’ve jumped from home to home in South Africa and never been confronted with lead-based paint disclosure legalities) I thought I’d do some investigating.
Lead is a heavy metal that can be added to paint as a pigment or to increase drying speeds and resist moisture. Although not likely to be found in house-use paints (in the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead-based paint in housing in 1978), it may occur in certain batteries, ammunition, pipes and other metal products. According to the Paint Page at Allegheny.com, “Lead is one of the more hazardous poisons because it is cumulative… Common lead compounds which are especially dangerous because of their high solubility in water are lead acetate and lead nitrate.”
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintains that lead-based paint remains the most common source of lead exposure for children under age six. However, kids can also be exposed through playing with toys or other items containing lead. Sadly, in 2006 a four year-old boy died from lead poisoning after swallowing a heart-shaped metallic charm containing lead. The trinket came free with a pair of Reebok shoes. CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) and Reebok announced a voluntary recall of 300,000 of these bracelets.
The EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that in the US approximately 900,000 children, ages one to five, have blood-lead levels above the level of concern.
Children can be poisoned by small amounts of lead. The EPA lists brain and nervous system damage, behaviour and learning problems, stunted growth, hearing problems and headaches as products of high lead levels in children. Adults may suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems and muscle and joint pain.
The EPA points out that lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition. However, if it is peeling, chipping, chalking or cracking it requires immediate attention. It’s unsafe to have lead-based paint on surfaces that children can chew or lick or on surfaces that get a lot of wear and tear, such as window sills and railings. Lead dust that forms when lead-based paint is sanded or scraped is hazardous, as is lead in soil, where kids might play. Contaminated soil can also be tramped into the house.
A blood test can be used to test for lead contamination in children and adults. Inspectors from the state lead poisoning prevention program will perform a paint inspection and risk assessment on individual homes.
Makes you think about all the other hazardous heavy-metals and substances we unwittingly encounter every day.
For the status of lead-based paint in South Africa, consult Angela Mathee and Brendan Barnes’, of the MRC Health and Development Research Group, highly informative, ‘Stripped – the Story of Lead Paint in South Africa‘, published in Science in Africa.
Images © sxc.hu