Home renovation, repair, and painting activities cause elevated blood lead levels in children no doubt about it. A 1997 analysis conducted by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) indicated that home renovation, repair, and painting (RRP) activities were important sources of lead exposure among children with blood lead levels (BLLs) >20 g/dL in New York state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report dated January 30, 2009 identified RRP activities as being the probable source of lead exposure in 139 (14%) of the 972 children in New York with BLLs of over 20 g/dL. But importantly, the majority of offenders are resident owners or tenants as opposed to contractors. Contractors performed a small percentage (6.5%) of RRP work related to elevated BLLs in New York state during 2006–2007.
Resident owners or tenants performed 66% of the RRP work. RRP work often includes sanding and scraping (42%), removal of painted materials or structures (29%), and other activities (29%) that can release particles of lead-based paint.
An estimated 250,000 children remain at risk for exposure to harmful lead levels in the United States, according to the New York State Department of Health, citing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) statistics. Children living in housing undergoing RRP and built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned from residential use, and particularly those built before 1950, when concentrations of lead in paint were higher, are now at high risk for elevated BLLs. This is of particular concern in New York state, where both the number (3,309,770) and proportion (43%) of housing units built before 1950 are greater than in any other state.
To help prevent lead contamination when contractors perform RRP projects, the EPA issued regulations in March 2008 that will require all renovators in the United States that work on certain types of housing or child-occupied facilities to be certified and follow specific work practices as of April 2010. In New York, state and local health departments have implemented education programs on RRP activities and lead-safe work practices for contractors and do-it-yourselfers.
To address the risk from RRP by owners and do-it-yourselfers, more public outreach and education is needed to raise awareness of potential lead-exposure hazards from RRP and to ensure protective measures that safely contain dust and paint chips. Persons who remove lead-based paint should follow recommendations of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect children from lead exposure. These recommendations include
1) relocate occupants during paint removal, and exclude children and pregnant women from the work area;
2) isolate work areas from other areas of the house;
3) avoid practices that create lead dust or fumes;
4) perform a full cleanup after work is completed; and
5) consider monitoring BLLs in persons who live or work in the dwelling.
Overall, the news is good. New government research shows that far fewer kids have high lead levels than 20 years ago, a testament to aggressive efforts to get lead out of paint, water and soil, the Associated Press reported. The latest data from federal researchers found that just 1.4 percent of young children had elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004, compared with almost 9 percent in 1988. The study was based on 5,000 children, ages 1 to 5, who were part of a periodic government health survey. The study was being released Monday in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics.
The CDC recommends that pregnant women and young children avoid housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. Other recommendations include regularly washing children’s hands and toys; frequent washing of floors and window sills, where paint dust can collect; and avoiding hot tap water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Hot tap water generally contains higher lead levels from plumbing than cold water.
Of course, this does not mean that there do not continue to be problems with lead in children’s products. Just today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that about 210,000 children’s flip flops, made in Brazil by Alpargatas USA Inc., of New York, because decorative paint on the sole of the flip flops can contain high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by young children. The decorations include a clown and circus motif, certainly designed to attract the close attention of children.
Flip flops of the Havaianas brand containing decorative paint were sold under these model names: Baby Estampas, Baby Pets, Kids Apple, Kids Fairy, Kids Flores, Kids Lighthouse, Kids Monsters, Kids Surf, Baby Letrinhas, Kids Sports, Kids Candies, Kids Fun, Kids Love, Kids Sereias, Kids Speed, Kids Lucky Bug, Kids Pets, Kids Rock, Kids Slim, Kids Wonder Woman, Kids Small Flowers and Kids Tropical w/Kit. They were sold by department and specialty stores nationwide from November 2006 through last month.