Lead in Schools: Lead-Based Paint and Drinking Water

Lead is a highly toxic metal. Too much lead in the body can cause serious and permanent health problems for anyone, but children and pregnant women are at special risk. In children, lead can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous system. Lead can slow down growth, development, and learning, and cause behavior problems. In pregnant women, lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause babies to be born too early, too small, or with learning or behavior problems. In adults, lead can cause high blood pressure and result in decreased fertility in men. Lead poisoning can be prevented.

It’s important to know about lead hazards to protect students and staff from exposure. Implementing lead safety into school renovation plans and ensuring lead-free drinking water in schools are important in lowering the overall risk of being exposed to lead. 

Lead-Based Paint in Schools

Assume lead-based paint is present in schools built before 1978. Risk of lead poisoning can be reduced when schools are maintained in a way that lowers or eliminates exposure to lead-contaminated soil, lead dust, and deteriorated (chipping or peeling) lead-based paint.

Essential Maintenance Practices: Vermont Lead Law for Child Care Facilities in Schools

Some schools are also sites for child care facilities. In Vermont, Essential Maintenance Practices (EMPs) are required for all pre-1978 child care facilities. EMPs are relatively inexpensive maintenance activities that property owners or property managers must do to reduce lead-based paint hazards and inspect the property for deteriorated lead-based paint. For more information, please see our guide to Essential Maintenance Practices.

School Renovations Projects

Dust from lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning in Vermont children. Renovation projects can create lead dust. When maintaining and renovating lead-based painted surfaces in schools built before 1978, the Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend lead-safe work practices. Schools should consider hiring an EPA Lead-Safe Certified Firm to perform renovation or repair work in areas where lead-based paint is present. These contractors have been trained in special methods to lessen dust and clean up thoroughly to lower the chance of lead contamination.

Make sure lead-safe work practices are followed. Unsafe work practices that disturb lead-based paint will create lead hazards (see Section 2.2.28). Creation of lead hazards in any kind of building or structure will result in compliance and enforcement proceedings and may cause a lead cleanup project that will require you to hire a Vermont-licensed lead abatement contractor.

For more information, see our guide to Lead for Public, Commercial, and Industrial Property Owners.

Lead in Drinking Water

Lead gets into drinking water from lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures. Lead can be found in public and private water systems and in plumbing. Lead pipes were commonly used for drinking water until the 1940s. Vermont banned lead pipe and fittings in the early 1970s. Vermont Plumbing Rules banned lead solder in 1988 and allow only faucets and fittings that meet National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standards for lead.

The EPA has set an action level for lead at 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of drinking water.

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