Be Aware of the Potential for Lead Poisoning in Rental and Low-Income Housing

According to a recent report from Pure Earth and Unicef entitled, “The Toxic Truth: Children’s Exposure to Lead Pollution Undermines a Generation of Future Potential,” about one in three children—up to 800 million globally—have blood lead levels at or above the “safe” limit of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Meanwhile, according to a study by Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, more than 103,000 rental units around Cleveland proper are potentially vulnerable to lead contamination because they were built before 1978 (when lead paint was outlawed).

Read on for how you can protect your family from lead poisoning in your apartment or home.

Older Rental Properties May Present Risk of Lead Poisoning

One of the more concerning findings from the University study of Cleveland housing was that a lack of maintenance and upkeep could contribute to lead poisoning in children:

“The majority of the city’s rental housing stock carries a significant risk of lead exposure to children because of age, deferred maintenance and low-market value,” said Rob Fischer, co-author of the study.

A significant proportion of the landlords in Cleveland had property that was classified as being in “bad condition” (43%) and/or of “very low market value” (29%). The research will help continue the implementation of the Lead Safe Home Fund, which provides property owners and families with effective and equitable support for home repair and lead poisoning prevention.

Children are particularly at risk of lead poisoning because they’re still growing and developing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no safe level of lead exposure, and even low levels that have been considered safe have been found to damage children’s health and impair their cognitive development. Symptoms include a reduction in IQ scores, shortened attention spans, and potentially violent and criminal behavior later in life.

Children under the age of five are most at risk for suffering lifelong neurological, cognitive, and physical damage and death from lead poisoning. Older children and adults, however, can also suffer from increased cardiovascular problems and kidney damage later in life.

Landlords Do Need to Take Measures to Reduce Lead-Based Paint

Unfortunately, the potential for lead poisoning in rental properties has been ongoing for years. In a 2005 study, researchers examined the medical records of 276 children followed from 6 to 24 months of age. They found that 20.6 percent of them had a blood lead concentration of 10 micrograms per deciliter (5 more than the “safe” level). Those who had these high levels were more likely to live in rental housing or poor housing conditions.

Part of the problem is at the state level, as different states have different policies concerning who should be responsible for the costs of lead removal. Still, the federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, aimed at reducing lead poisoning, requires landlords to take measures regarding lead-based paint in certain rentals. Landlords must also disclose any information they know about lead-based paint in the building, and provide tenants with a lead warning statement.

Keep Your Family Safe from Lead Poisoning

To protect you and your family from lead poisoning, consider these recommendations from the EPA:

  • Check the property for lead hazards before moving in. Find a certified inspector at
  • Talk to your landlord about fixing surfaces with peeling and chipping paint. On older properties with lead paint, as long as the paint is in good shape, your risk is low, but once it starts peeling and flaking, it presents higher risks, particularly to young children.
  • Regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces. Dust can be a source of lead.
  • Test your children for lead poisoning. Your doctor can tell with a simple blood test.
  • Wash children’s bottles, pacifiers, and toys often, as well as their hands.