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Lead Paint: Stricter Requirements, Longterm Health Complications, And Challenges for Landlords

Mike Mozart

Proposed Senate Bill 247 aims to prevent lead poisoning in children by strengthening lead testing requirements for children, and placing stricter requirements on properties containing lead paint. For some families, lead poisoning has caused long-term health problems that sometimes don't appear until years after exposure, and experts think the restrictions are not strong enough. However, landlords worry that the new requirements would be difficult to comply with, and come at a huge cost, and funding will be insufficient. For example, companies like Brady Sullivan are still managing fallout from lead poisoning several years ago that contributed to health problems in children living at their properties. We'll look at all sides of this issue.


  • Tom Irwin - Vice President and director of the Conservation Law Foundation in New Hampshire. 
  • Kate Kirkwood - Lead abatement contractor and risk assessor. She also teaches EPA & HUD safety certification courses to contractors.

  • Nick Norman - Landlord and former member of New Hampshire's Lead Commission. He also directs the legislative initiative for a group of landlords in the state. 
  • Jack Rodolico - NHPR health and science reporter. 

Highlights from the conversation:

Though lead has been banned from household paints since 1978, as many as nine out of ten homes in New England contain lead paint of some kind. For children under the age of six, whose brains are still developing, even the slightest exposure can have long term neurological and physical side effects, including lower IQ, mental health issues, ADHD, and hearing loss. 

Kate Kirkwood says that many people don't realize just how little lead need to be in the air for a child to be harmed:

If you took a grain of sugar and split it up into a thousand pieces, a couple of those pieces that a child breaths is enough to have an effect.

For older adults, there are also exposure risks. Contractors working in homes with lead paint must regularly be tested in order to ensure their levels are not elevated, which can lead to migraines and memory loss. 

The new Senate bill proposes testing on all children at ages one and two for lead. Currently, New Hampshire only does lead testing on 16 percent of children. By comparison, Vermont tests 82 percent. The bill also seeks to lower the requirement for investigation if lead is found in a child's blood. Currently, a child must have 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood to launch an investigation into their home. The federal recommendation is 5 micrograms per deciliter, and the new legislation would change standards to match this. 

Tom Irwin says that the state operates in a reactive, rather than proactive, way:

In Massachusetts, if you are a property owner and you are renting your property, you cannot rent that property unless you have made it lead safe. That is not the case in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, that standard does not exist. A child can come into rental unit and be poisoned, and not just be poisoned, a child has to be poisoned up to a level of 10 micrograms per deciliter.

However, it is expensive for landlords to completely renovate homes to remove lead. Nick Norman estimates the cost of abatement is around $10,000 per unit, but can vary wildly. He says that the best solution is start with the highest risk parts of the home, like windows, floors, and then doors. In the meantime, homeowners should do interim work, that is, covering the lead with latex paint. He also says:

In the United States, as a federal law, any property being sold or rented gets a lead paint disclosure form, so the tenant or the buyer gets a form that warns them about lead. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know about the lead on their property, and on the disclosure form, there is a place to say "I don't know" or "I don't have any results"...we encourage anybody buying a property to call the Department of Health and Human Services and ask if their home has been [inspected].

Our experts advise parents to have their children tested for lead by a physician, and that homeowners find out how much lead is in their homes, and turn to the resources listed below for advice on how to manage lead paint. In several areas of the state, including Nashua and Manchester, homeowners can apply for grants to help pay for renovations. 

Additional Resources:

Lead-Edu provides courses and information on lead paint safety, poisoning, and prevention. 

Lead Free Kids NH has information for parents and property owners about protecting children from lead exposure.

NH Landlord News is a resource for news, legislation, and regulations for landlords. 

K. Kirkwood Consulting, LLC provides lead-related courses, training manuals, and certifications. 

The New Hampshire Conservative Law Foundation deals with a wide variety of issues, including lead exposure and water quality. 

New Hampshire Legal Assistance provides resources for those seeking legal help. 

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