Lead This is a serious issue because

Lead in Buildings and Homes:

The Biggest Problem of the 20th Century



Beginning in the early 1920s, lead was a commonly used
ingredient in consumer products. It was primarily found in gasoline and paint, and
lead exposure increased throughout the decades. The durability and strong
pigmentation of the element made it a popular choice for a paint additive,
resulting in millions of lead-lined American homes (Lah, 2011). The sweet
flavor of lead based paint was inviting to children, and they would often eat
or swallow the chips. This caused high levels of lead exposure and resulted in
many childhood fatalities. Around the 1940s, reports began showing the harmful
effects of lead on public health. The government slowly started phasing out
lead in the 50s and 60s until it was officially banned in 1978. However, it was
still believed that small doses of lead were harmless. It wasn’t until 2012 that
the CDC finally declared there are no safe levels of lead.

While lead based gasoline is now almost gone in America, there
are still many houses containing lead paint products. The chips, dust, and fumes from lead paint are common in pre-1970’s
homes and can easily be inhaled or ingested. This is a serious issue
because contact with lead causes lead poisoning and other negative health
effects – especially in children. When
children aged 9 months to 6 years are exposed to low levels of lead paint, it causes
long-term psychological and physical effects, and in even death in severe
cases (CDC, 1985). Although lead can be removed, the expense of this process
means a large portion of lead contaminated houses are concentrated in
low-income areas. A study found that 67% of African American, Asian, and Latino
children had lead levels in their blood over the CDC’s threshold, compared to only
9% of Caucasian children (Phoenix, 1993). This is a serious environmental
justice issue because minorities are forced to expose their families to lead since
they can’t afford otherwise. With an estimated 4 million American households
exposing children to lead, the poison is still a great concern for public
health (CDC, 2017). In this paper, I will focus on lead paint in houses, analyze
the legal and health implications, and examine common solutions for dealing
with it.


Laws and Court Cases:

Up until 2012, the CDC identified 10 or more micrograms per
deciliter of lead in blood as a level of concern, but not a serious health risk
(CDC, 2017). However, various studies analyzing the long-term effects of lead
on children later convinced the CDC to declare any levels of lead exposure unsafe.
In response to the health risk lead poses, the EPA created many regulations
including Title IV of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Section 403 of TSCA,
or the Residential Hazard Standards of Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil, sets
standards for the tolerable levels of lead in homes. This regulation requires
that lead be below 40 micrograms in dust per
square foot on floors and 250 micrograms in dust per square foot on interior
window sills (EPA,
2017). Evaluating the amount of lead in an area allows Environmental Health
professionals to determine when a home is unsafe and uninhabitable. Additionally,
the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 directs EPA to regulate
lead-based paint hazards. It requires that toxic paint be minimized as much as
possible, intending to make homes a safer environment. The Lead Renovation, Repair,
and Painting Rule applies to state certified contractors and renovators. This
rule requires that the work area is enclosed so no dust or debris leaves during
the renovation process. Air ducts and doors must be sealed, and dust must be
reduced as much as possible. The project must also be continuously cleaned,
making sure the area is vacuumed and wet wiped with EPA approved techniques.

The U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development (HUD) handles many of the regulations surrounding lead, such
as the Lead Safe Housing Rule. This applies to all federally owned housing,
specifically that which children under the age of 6 are living in and have
raised levels of lead in their blood (HUD, 2017). HUD also provides grants and financial
support for those whose homes have lead paint violating rules and regulations. This
last year, HUD gave out grants totaling $100 million to fund lead abatement
(HUD, 2017).

Although there are programs like HUD
in place to provide resources for lead removal, there are still many
disagreements and court cases fighting over the responsibility to clean up the
houses. In 2000, the People of the State California v. Atlantic Richfield Company attempted to
charge local paint companies with removing lead from 3.5 million homes (California
v. Atlantic Richfield Company, 2000). The issue with lead homes is the cost of repairing
them, and California v. Atlantic Richfield Company is just one example of the continuing
battle to clean up the mess. Lead abatement is a legally contentious issue because
the recourse for people who are exposed to lead is to sue the landlord,
creating innumerable court cases. After 17 years, the court found the Atlantic
Richfield Company responsible for the abatement and cleanup of the hazardous
material according to regulations like TSCA. The financial responsibility of
lead cleanup is continuously debated, and the remaining lead contaminated
houses pose a serious threat to the health of children.


Health Effects:

According to the EPA, lead paint is a major hazard and
must be removed when it’s peeling, chipping, damaged, or damp. Areas of paint that rub against each
other, like a door frame, can scrape off and enter a child’s mouth or lungs (EPA,
2017). These hazardous conditions anticipate the probability of lead breaking
down and being ingested. Lead is more readily absorbed on a low-calorie diet deficient
of calcium, iron, and zinc (Holstege, 2016). Typically, 30-50% of ingested lead
is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract in children, and 99% of inhaled lead
is absorbed through the lungs (Holstege, 2016). Since lead bioaccumulates and is
distributed throughout the blood like other minerals, it can cause extreme long-term
physical issues in children (Vyas, 2015). Nervous system and kidney damage are
common in both adults and children. Other health problems that result from contact with lead include reproductive
issues, anemia, and hypertension (WHO, 2017).

lead is absorbed in either the lungs or GI tract, it quickly enters the
bloodstream. This causes the brain to swell and impairs the formation of the areas
such as the hippocampus and other important cognitive regions (Gulson &
Salome, 2012). Studies have shown that kids with higher levels of lead
in their blood have lower IQs and slower mental capacities (Ernheart, 2006). In
total, an estimated 12.4% of childhood intellectual disabilities worldwide
occur because of low level lead exposure (WHO, 2017). These children are
reported to have shorter attention spans and be less conversational (WHO,
2017). Qualities such as these cause the children to be less successful in
school and have more difficulty adjusting to societal life than children with
no lead previous lead exposure. Lead also lowers children’s impulse control,
resulting in aggressive, non-compliant behavior that follows them into
adulthood. These children continue to throw temper tantrums or act out as they
age and have little or no understanding of consequences to their actions. Because
the lead prevents their brains from fully developing a sense of impulse control,
lead exposed children are also more likely to be involved in crime and other risky behavior later in
life (Phoenix, 1993). A Nevin study found that “variations in leaded gas
sales from 1941-1986 correlated with roughly 90% of the fluctuations of violent
crime rate from 1960-1998,” meaning that the more lead children ingest, the higher
crime rates will be (Wakefield, 2002). This also puts more minorities at risk, since
immigrants and non-Caucasians are more likely to live in pre-1978 houses, revealing
a serious environmental justice issue (HUD, 2017). Lead remains in many American homes, and the physical
and cognitive effects on children have extreme long-term consequences.



There are many approaches to solve the issue of lead
contaminated houses. The safest option is to remove all lead paint by hiring a
professional lead certified contractor. By using a hard wire brush, wet hand scraping,
or a liquid paint remover, the lead paint can be stripped and removed from the
walls. Contractors are also required to use a vacuum with a high-efficiency
particulate air (HEPA) filter, to efficiently and completely
trap all lead particles. While this gets rid of any traces of lead in the home,
it is also the most expensive choice, costing $8 to $15 per
square foot or about $9,600 to $30,000 for a 1,200- to 2,000-sq. ft. house (Walker, 2016).

A cheaper approach would be to paint over the original coat
with a vinyl sealant in a process called encapsulation. This traps the lead
containing layer underneath and prevents dust from forming, and saves at least
an estimated $10,000. Encapsulation is also a relatively simple process, because
you are just repainting the walls. However, the sealant could peel or wear with
use revealing the original paint. This causes the same problems of paint chips
and dust building up in the house and does not eliminate all traces of lead.

 Another option is to
educate the family in the home. Encouraging frequent handwashing and
immediately cleaning up lead chips minimizes the overall exposure and attempts
to limit contact with and lead based products. Additionally, applying weekly “wet
clean” methods on frames and windowsills can be effective in disposing lead
since inhalation of paint formed dust is the leading cause of lead poisoning
(EPA, 2017). Wet mops and sponges pick up lead dust and chips easier than dry
methods. Teaching proper cleaning and sanitation routines is an inexpensive and
easily accessible method to reduce the amount of lead exposure. In addition,
you can educate the family on the importance of good nutrition. Providing
children with Calcium and Zinc supplements lowers the risk of lead poisoning.
The minerals compete with the lead, preventing it from being absorbed. Although
this reduces the uptake of lead, it is not a cure for lead poisoning. Education
is important, easily taught, and cheap; however, it is the less preferred control
because families are still being exposed to low levels of lead in their homes.

Another of action is to seal off lead contaminated houses
and keep out kids and families. By not allowing people to enter the home, there
are no chances for lead to be inhaled or ingested. The largest drawback to
closing off the houses is that people are being evicted and often can’t afford
to go anywhere else. Also, closing homes means losing valuable land and
property investments. Finally, you can’t control whether the lead will remain separate.
The debris and dust from the home can be blown into nearby areas or people may
re-enter the house and expose themselves to the toxin. While sealing off housing
is theoretically a good idea, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.



Current controls for lead contaminated housing
like education and sealing off homes are temporary fixes to a permanent issue.
The safest option for dealing lead is to completely remove it. Despite the
large amount of lead paint products present in housing today, funding for its
removal has decreased. Moving forward, there must be more financial support to
completely remove lead from homes. Since most of lead contaminated housing is
in lower income housing, (Phoenix, 1993) lead abatement funds should initially
focus on these areas. In the interest of public health, each state could take
monetary responsibility for lead removal programs. Over the next decade,
hopefully a large majority of lead houses will be declared habitable for public
use. To better handle this problem, we must know which regions have the highest
risk of lead exposure. By annually testing neighborhoods and residents, we
would be able to keep track of lead levels and clean up the hazard efficiently.
Lead can be removed from homes, but it is completely dependent on available
finances. To protect the youth of America, we must fund this ongoing
environmental issue. 


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