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  1. How do I determine whether my child's school has a problem with lead paint?
  2. Why should we be concerned only about peeling and chipped paint?
  3. What is considered to be an unacceptable level of lead in paint?
  4. Is it true that most California elementary schools have dangerous levels of lead paint?
  5. My child's school has covered up chipped lead paint with boards or fenced off certain areas. Is that an acceptable way to prevent lead paint exposure?
  6. My child's school is nearly 40 years old, but school officials say there is no evidence of deteriorating lead paint, so they won't do anything about it. Are parents just supposed to wait for a child to become sick?
  7. If the state of California has known about the lead paint problem in elementary schools for over two years, why aren't they doing something about it?
  8. How do I know if my child has lead poisoning? Should I get my child tested?
  9. How can I get more information?



1. How do I determine whether my child's school has a problem with lead paint?

First, check when the school was built. If it was built before 1978, it is likely to contain lead-based paint. If it was built after 1992, it probably does not. Generally, the older the paint, the higher the lead content. (In 1978, paint containing more than 0.06 percent lead was banned, however, old stocks of leaded paint were still used for more than a decade.) Next, ask if the school is planning to identify and address lead hazards. Then ask to go on a walk-through inspection. Look for chipping or blistering paint. If you see paint that is deteriorating, ask the school to test those areas.


2. Why should we be concerned only about peeling and chipped paint?

Paint that is peeling or chipping poses an immediate safety hazard for young children, since eating even one paint chip can lead poison a child. Intact lead paint is still a potential problem, because eventually it will deteriorate, and in the meantime it may be releasing lead dust. Removal of intact paint, however, could release higher levels of lead inside the school than leaving the paint in place.


3. What is considered to be an unacceptable level of lead in paint?

Lead-based paint is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as any paint that contains more than 0.5 percent lead by weight (or about 1 milligram per square centimeter of painted surface). This is the "action level" at which the EPA recommends removal of lead paint if it is deteriorating and chipping. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines lead-containing paint as paint with any detectable level of lead.


4. Is it true that most California elementary schools have dangerous levels of lead paint?

In 1998, the California Department of Health Services released the results of testing in 200 California elementary schools. They found detectable levels of lead in 95.8 percent of schools, and levels above the EPA's "action level" in 77.7 percent of schools tested. Of these, they found that 37.8 percent had deteriorated lead paint.


5. My child's school has covered up chipped lead paint with boards or fenced off certain areas. Is that an acceptable way to prevent lead paint exposure?

Covering over deteriorating lead paint by enclosing or encapsulating the surfaces is an effective temporary measure. Wallpaper, wallboards, or fencing to restrict access to areas containing lead paint can all help reduce children's exposure in the short term. In the longer term, removal of the paint is advisable. Removal must be done using proper procedures, when children are not in the building. Simply painting over lead-based paint is not an effective control strategy.


6. My child's school is nearly 40 years old, but school officials say there is no evidence of deteriorating lead paint, so they won't do anything about it. Are parents just supposed to wait for a child to become sick?

If the school has trained personnel monitoring the situation, and the paint is not deteriorating, interim control measures should adequately protect children from exposure to lead hazards. However, the school should have clear policies for monitoring and reevaluation of the paint, dust removal, and other forms of maintenance. Constant vigilance can be an effective short-term approach, but the school still needs to plan for permanent removal of lead-based paint.


7. If the state of California has known about the lead paint problem in elementary schools for over two years, why aren't they doing something about it?

The state's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch is doing excellent assessment and educational work, but they suffer from chronic under-funding. California also has an excellent training program on lead paint hazards for school custodial staff, but the program is voluntary. Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness, the risks to our children from lead paint have not received the priority treatment they deserve.


8. How do I know if my child has lead poisoning? Should I get my child tested?

All children should be evaluated by a doctor for lead exposure when they are about one year old; older children may also need to be evaluated if exposure is suspected. Remember, a child can have a lead level that is above the level of concern while showing no symptoms. Children in the second grade or below and special-needs children with developmental disabilities are at greatest risk.


9. How can I get more information?

EPA National Lead Information Center
8601 George Avenue, Suite 503
Silver Spring MD 20910
1-800-424-LEAD

The EPA National Lead Information Center provides information to help parents protect their children from poisoning in the home and can furnish a list of state and local contacts. Written materials and recordings are available in English and Spanish.

CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
4770 Buford Highway NE
MS F-42
Atlanta GA 30341
770-488-7330

The CDC develops programs and policies to prevent childhood lead poisoning, educates the public and health care providers, provides funding to state and local health departments, and supports research to determine the effectiveness of prevention efforts at the federal, state, and local levels.

State of California Department of Health Services
Childhood Lead Prevention Program
1-800-597-5323

California's Health Services Department provides information on how to test your home for lead, and online access to the Legislative Report on Lead Hazards in California Elementary Schools.

last revised 11/5/2000

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