With Coloradans spending more time at home during the pandemic, home renovations and do-it-yourself projects are on the rise. Too often these projects can expose people to an invisible hazard — toxic lead dust — and can cause serious and permanent health problems, especially in children. As Region 8 administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , and a parent with young children at home, I appreciate the importance of making sure these renovations are done safely. This October, as we celebrate National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, EPA wants to remind Denverites of the importance of reducing childhood lead exposure and what we can all do to prevent it.
Young children, especially those under age 6, are at greatest risk of lead exposure because their brains are still developing, and they absorb a greater percentage of the lead that gets in their bodies. Lead paint chips often taste sweet, and this taste, along with children’s tendency to put things in their mouths, can result in a child eating lead chips and dust. If you suspect your child has been exposed, call your pediatrician or local health department and find out where to get them tested.
Children are often exposed to lead in homes or in childcare facilities built before 1978, where lead-based paint is more likely to be found. To reduce risks of lead exposure, EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP) requires renovators working in homes and facilities built before 1978 to be trained and certified in lead-safe work practices. In addition, EPA’s Lead Disclosure Rule requires landlords and property managers to notify renters in homes and apartments that may have lead-based paint.
Following these rules is important, especially in areas like Denver, where older homes and apartments represent a high percentage of the housing stock. To encourage compliance, EPA’s Denver staff conducts over 50 inspections every year, with most conducted randomly at jobsites around the city where renovations are taking place. We also respond to tips and complaints, review records, and request information from renovators to ensure compliance with these rules.
Under President Trump, EPA has worked to implement policy changes that will trigger abatement at lower levels of lead contamination and has demonstrated that abatement activities effectively and permanently eliminate those hazards. In 2019, EPA finalized new, tighter dust lead hazard standards for lead in dust on floors and windowsills – for the first time since 2001 – and in June, the agency proposed to align dust lead clearance levels with these more stringent hazard standards. Dust lead hazard standards help property owners, lead paint professionals, and government agencies identify lead hazards in residential paint, dust, and soil.
One of our biggest priorities right now is to reduce lead exposure in childcare facilities by ensuring childcare providers are knowledgeable about the hazards of childhood lead exposure so they can help protect the children in their care. Our efforts to reduce childhood lead exposure, however, aren’t focused solely on professional renovators and childcare providers. Due to the pandemic, many of us are now working from home, and a large percentage of the area’s children are participating in online classes. With so many people teleworking, home renovations are on the rise as we look for ways to combine work and living spaces under one roof.
We all know that building out that extra workspace, bedroom or living area, or freshening up old walls and windows, can go a long way toward making our homes and families comfortable as we spend more time together indoors. EPA’s message to those taking on home improvements this fall is simple: test your home before undertaking any projects that could disturb lead-based paint. If you find out lead is present, learn how to work in a lead-safe way or find a trained and lead-safe certified renovator.
By staying informed and playing our parts, we all can reduce childhood lead exposure in Denver and make sure our homes stay safe as we navigate these uncertain times.
Greg Sopkin serves as EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, overseeing the delivery of environmental programs in the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and 27 Tribal Nations.