Why may it be a problem to limit lead poisoning protections to housing where children 6 years old or younger will live?

Some communities design lead prevention programs that establish protections that apply to housing only if a child 6 years old or younger will be living on the premises.  (Massachusetts’ lead law requires the removal or covering of lead paint only in homes built before 1978 where children under 6 live.  Philadelphia recently changed its lead law from covering only homes where children under 6 live to covering all homes built before 1978.)  Recent litigation asserts that this type of law violates the Fair Housing Act.  

In 2019, the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center sued the Massachusetts Department of Health alleging that the state’s lead poisoning law discriminates against families with young children by incentivizing landlords not to rent to them. Massachusetts’ lead law requires landlords to delead an apartment before renting to a family with a child under age 6. The lawsuit claims that instead of removing lead hazards, some landlords instead refuse to rent to families with young children.

Children can also be exposed to lead in school, at day care centers or home day care facilities, or even on playgrounds.


What’s the solution?

Given the current litigation surrounding whether or not rules that only apply to housing where children 6 or younger will live, it is best practice to create lead poisoning prevention policies that apply to housing regardless of whether young children will reside in the home.  

To also address places where children may be exposed, a community should consider adopting rules about lead in day care centers, home day care centers, and schools. 

North Carolina requires that all licensed child care centers test all drinking water faucets and food preparation sinks for lead contamination within one year, and new centers must test upon application for a license.  After that, child care centers will test their water once every three years. If a child care center finds elevated concentrations of lead in the center’s water, they will be required to take immediate action.

The National Center for Healthy Housing has released a toolkit for reducing lead in home-based child care.  In New York, all public school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services must test drinking water for lead contamination, and to take action if lead exceeds the actionable threshold. If any fixture exceeds the lead action level (15 micrograms per liter ), it must be immediately taken out of service until actions are taken to mitigate the lead levels. Schools must notify staff, parents, and guardians of students in writing when outlets exceed the action level indicating contamination and maintain test results on their websites.

In Erie County, New York, peeling lead paint on old playground equipment brought attention to the need to properly maintain playground equipment and spurred a plan to remove or remediate the lead hazards.