For many years, lead was a common additive in paint, gasoline, certain ethnic medicines, pottery glaze, lead crystal, lead figures, storage batteries, kohl or kajal eyeliners, jewelry and porcelain, so it may still exist on your premises. Food kept in lead crystal containers may contain lead. Toys (pre-1976 in the U.S.) and furniture painted with lead-based paint as well as toys from foreign countries that have not banned the use of lead in paint may also contain lead. The water that you drink, if it comes from lead piping, is another source of lead. Deteriorating paint releases visible paint chips into the home, and lead paint dust, which is invisible, can be released when lead-based paint is disturbed by belt sanding, sand papering, dry scraping, high temperature heat guns, and opening and closing windows if they disturb the paint. Lead can also be present in soil, having previously been deposited by leaded gas and by deteriorating exterior lead-based paint. Lead can be present on your clothing if you work with lead. Walking through, sweeping and vacuuming lead dust may release lead into the air. Painting over lead-based paint with non-leaded paint may be only a temporary fix.
Lead in paint was banned by the federal government in 1978. Therefore, housing constructed prior to 1978 may contain lead. If lead is suspected in the home then a certified professional should inspect the premises to determine if remediation is required. (Home lead tests exist but may not always be accurate.)
Lead is injurious to the health of all human beings and even to unborn children as the fetus may be poisoned via the mother’s placenta, resulting in possible brain damage or death. Children under the age of 7, and infants, are especially vulnerable because the brain and nervous system are developing and because growing bodies absorb greater amounts of lead. Young children often touch contaminated paint chips and other lead-bearing objects, such as soil, put their hands in their mouths and ingest the lead. Lead poisoning usually occurs slowly, over a period of months or years—not typically as a result of a single ingestion or exposure to the lead. Therefore, even children who appear healthy may be poisoned, so if poisoning is suspected, then the child should be tested by a physician. Untreated poisoning may be catastrophic and, even with treatment, the child may suffer permanent damage. Delayed physical growth and mental development, learning and behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder, decreased intelligence, hearing damage, loss of appetite and brain damage are some of the ill effects that may afflict these children.
Typical symptoms of lead poisoning may include abdominal pain and cramps, aggressive behavior, sleep problems, irritability, constipation, headaches, high blood pressure, fatigue, numbness or tingling in the extremities, memory loss, anemia, kidney dysfunction, fertility problems in men and women, muscle and joint pain and nerve disorders.
Even with treatment, the effects of chronic exposure may not be reversed. Treatment may consist of chelation therapy, which binds to lead in the body, excreting the lead through the urine; activated charcoal which binds lead in the gastrointestinal tract and then is excreted; or a chemical called EDTA.
Both landlords and sellers must disclose information regarding the presence or absence of lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards to tenants and buyers before renting, selling or renovating housing built prior to 1978. Tenants and buyers must receive a federally approved pamphlet on lead poisoning prevention. In New York City, by law, landlords are required to perform a visual inspection of the premises in order to determine the presence of lead-based paint hazards if a child aged 7 years or under lives in the premises. If a child is less than 6 years of age, the tenant is also required to immediately inform the landlord of any peeling paint or deteriorated surfaces. Each tenant must be given the pamphlet, “A Guide to New York City Local Law I of 2004” and the EPA pamphlet, “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.”
The tragic, shameful and easily preventable consequences of New York City’s failure to comply with its own law regarding inspection for lead paint in public housing was reported in The New York Times on December 4, 2017. The New York City Housing Authority had failed, for a recent period of four years, to conduct these inspections, which are mandated by federal rules and by New York City law. Worse, the city agency in charge of conducting the inspections had certified in writing that the inspections had been done. The city’s mayor claimed that no children were seriously affected (how could he possibly know?) but the mother of a 4-year-old child who has allegedly suffered irreversible brain damage and is suing the city obviously believes otherwise. Inspection of 4200 public-housing apartments disclosed that more than half of them had peeling or otherwise damaged paint. Now, the city will provide lead testing for children who live in these apartments—but the damage may already have been done.
By Vivian J. Oleen
Vivian J. Oleen is an associate broker at Sopher Realty.