Lead in Schools
Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause adverse health effects for both children and adults. There is no safe blood lead level in children, and there are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). This is the reference level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend public health actions be initiated. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. The most common source of lead is from paint in buildings built before 1978.
Why is lead in schools a concern?
Children spend a significant portion of their day in schools, and many school buildings are aging structures that can pose lead health hazards. Lead exposure can increase children’s risk for learning disabilities, central nervous system damage, kidney damage and other detrimental health effects.
Lead was used in paint prior to 1978 to produce brighter colors and to make the paint last longer. Many older schools used lead paint to cover walls, floors, doors and especially window frames. Lead was also used in stains, varnishes and shellacs. Intact lead paint generally does not pose a health risk. However, when lead paint is allowed to deteriorate or is damaged, it can release paint chips and dust into the environment creating lead hazards. Lead hazards can also be found in the soil outside of school buildings and in dust inside the buildings.
Lead can also be found in plumbing materials and potentially leach into drinking water supplies. Lead pipes were most commonly installed prior to the 1930s. However, lead can also be found in the solder used to join pipes together, as well as in other plumbing components and fixtures. The potential for lead to leach into water increases the longer the water is in contact with the lead. Because of intermittent water usage patterns, schools can be at increased risk for lead leaching.
What lead hazards are regulated in schools?
The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) regulates the abatement of lead paint from all pre-1978 schools where there are children under the age of 6. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates all renovation activities where lead paint will be disturbed in pre-1978 schools where there are children younger than 6.
The NDDoH implements the drinking water standards set by EPA for public water systems which are required to regularly test drinking water taps for lead. However, these tests are not often conducted at schools due to specific sampling site requirements of the EPA rule.
How can schools address lead hazards and comply with regulations?
School Lead Hazards Assessment
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