Lead poisoning is a serious health threat, especially for children under six years old. If lead is ingested, it can accumulate in the blood. The Center for Disease Control has determined there is no safe level of lead in the blood for children under six years old.
The federal government banned lead-based paint in 1978. However, many buildings and other structures constructed before 1978 — such as houses — still have lead-based paint on walls, woodwork, siding, windows and doors. Exposure to lead-contaminated dust can occur when paint deteriorates or is chipped away from interior surfaces. Lead paint on surfaces that children can chew on — such as windowsills or door frames — can present a hazard even if it is in good condition. Lead paint on exterior surfaces can contaminate soil.
Many local jurisdictions administer lead poisoning prevention programs focused on primary prevention through education, blood lead testing and case management. Local agencies similarly administer a variety of federal, state and local lead laws and regulations that establish requirements related to identifying and remediating lead hazards (the National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of state statutes addressing lead hazards in homes).
Local governments may be responsible for complying with those requirements at the properties they own and manage. Local governments and drinking water suppliers also have obligations regarding lead in drinking water (please see the LGEAN page devoted to compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act).
Federal Laws and Regulations
The principal federal laws governing lead paint in housing are contained in the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). These laws create responsibilities for homeowners and property managers and direct EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to promulgate regulations implementing the requirements.
EPA and HUD promulgated the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule. The Rule requires building owners to disclose lead-based hazards to prospective buyers or tenants before selling or leasing a property. "Owners" include government agencies.
EPA promulgated two major sets of regulations addressing lead-based paint: the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule and the Lead-Based Paint Activities Rule. A state can petition to administer and enforce these two sets of regulations, but its program must be at least as protective as the federal program. EPA authorized many states to administer the RRP Rule (authorized programs here) and the Lead-Based Paint Activities Rule (authorized programs here). EPA also authorizes Tribes to administer the RRP rule. These regulations refer only to renovations and abatement activities and do not require any affirmative action to identify or abate lead-based hazards. Various state and local laws may create such obligations.
The RRP Rule (promulgated in 2008 and since amended) aims to protect the public from lead-based paint hazards associated with renovation, repair and painting activities. A renovation project is defined as "the modification of any existing structure, or portion of a structure, that results in the disturbance of painted surfaces," unless the activity is performed as part of an abatement. The rule applies to anyone who performs renovations for compensation in pre-1978 housing ("target housing") or child-occupied facilities, which are defined as pre-1978 buildings visited regularly by the same child under six years of age.
The RRP rule requires each firm to be certified, to have at least one certified renovator and for the remainder of employees involved in renovation activities to either also be certified renovators or be trained on the job by a certified renovator. To become a certified renovator, a person must complete a renovator training course accredited by EPA or an EPA-authorized program. The RRP Rule also requires that renovators follow lead-safe work practices. These practices include: work-area containment to prevent dust and debris from leaving the work area; prohibition of certain work practices like open-flame burning and the use of power tools without High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) exhaust control; and thorough clean up followed by a verification procedure to minimize exposure to lead-based paint hazards. The rule also requires firms to distribute EPA's lead hazard information pamphlet Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools before starting renovation work. There are also record keeping requirements regarding implementation of RRP regulations.
See list of states authored to administer the RRP rule here.
The Lead-Based Paint Activities Rule (promulgated in 1996) governs lead-based paint inspections, risk assessments and abatements in target housing and child-occupied facilities. Abatement is a specialized activity designed to address lead in the home. RRP activities (including most home contracting work) disturb paint as a consequence of the activity, but they are often undertaken for reasons unrelated to lead issues.
The Lead-Based Paint Activities Rule requires individuals who engage in lead-based paint activities (defined as inspection, risk assessment and abatement in target housing and child-occupied facilities) to be certified by EPA. Firms must also be certified by EPA and employ certified workers. The Lead-Based Paint Activities Rule also creates work practice standards for these activities.
Lead-based Paint Hazards Rule
EPA also established Dust Lead Hazard Standards (DLHS), Paint Lead Hazard Standards and Soil-Lead Hazard Standards. In early 2021, EPA finalized a new rule updating these standards by lowering the allowable amount of lead present in dust on floors and windowsills to 10 micrograms ("g) of lead in dust per square foot (ft2) for floor dust and 100 "g/ft2 for windowsill dust. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held, however, that these new levels are inadequate and directed the agency to reconsider the levels to account for current knowledge about the toxicity of lead.
Lead Safe Housing Rule
The Lead Safe Housing Rule, promulgated by HUD, requires risk assessment, rehabilitation and lead abatement for target, or pre-1978, federally assisted properties. Whether a building qualifies, and the exact requirements to reduce lead-based hazards, depend on various factors. A formula helps determine what affirmative duties apply to federally assisted housing, based on the funding source and date of construction. For example, if a project receives over $25,000 in federal rehab assistance, then lead-based hazard abatement is required and must be carried out by a certified contractor. Properties receiving less than $25,000 in federal rehab assistance must also use certified abatement contractors if the project they are undertaking is intended to eliminate lead paint hazards. Funding sources matter; for example, public housing has some of the most stringent abatement requirements. A state or Tribal government receiving federal funds will be subject to these requirements to identify lead, give notice to occupants and abate lead.
Disposal and Construction
Construction and Demolition (C&D) workers can be exposed to lead contamination when cutting, scraping, sanding, heating, burning or blasting lead-based paint from building components, metal bridges and metal storage tanks. In addition to workers suffering lead exposure, lead-based paint debris or dust from these activities can also make its way into soil, potentially contaminating surface waters.
Proper management of C&D debris contaminated with lead-based paint depends on where the debris originated and their composition:
- Commercial and industrial sites: If a representative sample meets the toxicity characteristic (D008), both lead-based paint waste (e.g., paint chips, dust and sludge resulting from removal or remediation activities) and C&D debris from commercial or industrial sites that is contaminated with lead-based paint must be managed as RCRA hazardous waste. However, whole-building demolition debris is deemed non-hazardous under RCRA for lead and should be disposed of in a C&D landfill or as otherwise provided by state law.
- Homes: Residential waste from lead-based paint may be disposed of in a C&D landfill or a municipal solid waste landfill. EPA promulgated regulations in 2003 to facilitate removal of lead-based paint in residential housing. EPA encourages best practices, and contractors are subject to training and certification requirements. Additionally, HUD has established guidelines for contractors. Lead-based paint waste itself falls under state, rather than federal regulation. In most states, contractors working to renovate, remodel or abate lead-based paint in homes are allowed to dispose of lead-based paint waste as household garbage. In many states, these contractors do not need to determine whether the waste meets the toxicity characteristic required under RCRA.
EPA Lead Center. Compendium of EPA resources, including basic safety information, policies and guidance documents, EPA news releases, webinars and details on both the RRP Rule and the Abatement and Evaluation Program.
EPA Final Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities. Details approaches and key actions of the strategy to reduce lead exposures and disparities in U.S. communities.
RRP Rule Compliance Assistance. Guidance on complying with the RRP Rule for pre-1978 structures, especially housing and buildings occupied by children (e.g., schools and day-care centers). Includes links to EPA, state and Tribal sites on the subject and guidance materials on complying with the RRP. Available in Spanish (hhaga clic aquí para español)
Compliance with Federal Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation. EPA small business compliance handbook for contractors, property managers, painters, plumbers, electricians and other service providers who might be regulated by federal RRP requirements. Provides information on certification, record keeping, best practices and training
Protect Your Family from Lead. EPA-approved pamphlet for information on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards.
EPA Reference Guide for Lead and Copper Rule. Concise reference guide highlighting key requirements for municipalities regarding compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act"s Lead and Copper Rule.
HUD Grants for Elimination of Lead-based Hazards in Homes. Information and links to application for removal of lead-based hazards in homes. Contains information for both the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control (LHC) and the Lead Hazard Reduction grant programs (LHRD).
HUD Memo on Housing Waste. Guide for disposing of housing waste when disturbing lead-based paint.
HUD Presentation. Explains duties under Lead Safe Housing Rule.
New York State Publication: What to Know When Working with Lead. Contains information for contractors, owners and occupants regarding rules and best practices for renovations.
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) List of State Statutes. NCSL list of state statutes addressing lead hazards in homes.
National Conference of State Legislatures Report. NCSL report on reducing childhood lead exposure in housing. Surveys legislative and regulatory efforts from state and local governments, as well as federally funded policy interventions that are administered by states.
National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) Lead Resources. Provides resources for prevention strategies for individual property managers, broader interventions to control and monitor lead poisoning and databases on both lead poisoning and lead legislation among states and localities.