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Q: Why follow EPA lead guidelines, and what are the dangers of not doing so?

A: Until 1978, lead paint was popular in American homes. It came in long-lasting, bright, modern-looking colors, and it was aggressively marketed by the lead industry, which downplayed public health concerns about its products for decades.

Lead is, of course, a toxic metal, and EPA guidelines call on homeowners and landlords to strip dangerous levels of lead from residences with young children. This is because, as public health writer Helen Epstein notes: “Miniscule amounts of lead can poison a child. The signs of severe lead poisoning—convulsions, pain, coma etc.—are typically seen when the concentration of blood lead exceeds sixty micrograms per deciliter of blood. This corresponds to the ingestion of a total amount of lead weighing about the same as six grains of table salt.”

Children ages six and under are at the greatest risk for poisoning from lead paint; among the dangers associated with lead paint exposure are: behavioral and learning problems, decreased IQ, hyperactivity, cognitive impairment, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. The EPA also cautions that adults overexposed to lead can suffer from decreased kidney function, reproductive problems, hypertension, increased blood pressure, and other cardiovascular effects.

According to Boston.com, local researchers estimate that somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of Boston housing still contains lead, and according to Leon Bethune, the Director of Environmental Health at the Boston Public Health Commission: “The thing about lead is that there is no safe level. Period.” The Centers for Disease Control confirm that even low-level exposure is a concern.

Under Massachusetts state law, real estate agents and owners must comply with Property Transfer Lead Paint Notification requirements, which entail notifying prospective buyers or tenants if a property was built before 1978. Landlords can also be held liable if children become ill from lead exposure.

The above is the long answer to why following EPA guidelines is a good idea; we hope it gave you all the background and information required to make an informed decision. The short answer is simpler: lead is a dangerous metal, even in trace amounts, and it can be damaging to your health and the health of your loved ones.  Simply put: if your residence was built prior to 1978, as so many New England homes are, safe lead paint removal is essential to your well-being. When seeking out a contractor, make sure to check out his or her lead-certification information; safe lead abatement requires training, so make sure to discuss their qualifications and put your mind at ease.