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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Lead-Free Rules: Get the Lead Out

Air Date: Week of

According to new federal right-to-know regulations, all leases and sales contracts need to include information on known lead hazards; homes may be tested before purchase; and pamphlets on testing are to be provided to tenants. David Jacobs, Director of the Office of Lead Hazard Control at HUD (Housing and Urban Development) speaks with Steve Curwood on the new standards. For more information on rights and responsibilites, listeners can contact the National Lead Clearinghouse at (800) 424-LEAD.


CURWOOD: Lead poisoning in America has been described as an epidemic. Today it's the number one environmental health hazard facing children under the age of 6. Recently the Federal Government instituted 4 new rules to help people protect children for lead. It's now illegal for landlords or people selling their homes to conceal any information they have about lead paint in the house. All leases and sales contracts must now include language describing all known lead hazards. Home sellers and landlords must distribute safety pamphlets describing how to get homes tested and what to do if lead is found. And home buyers have the right to have their new homes tested for lead before purchasing them. The new rules do not provide for lead removal. These are simply right-to-know regulations. Still, David Jacobs, director of the Office of Lead Hazard Control in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development says as home buyers and tenants learn more about the dangers of lead, market forces will pressure landlords and people selling homes to get the lead out.

JACOBS: We think this rule will dramatically increase the demand for testing and abatement services. We asked home appraisers why it is that when people set the price of a house they do not consider the presence or absence of lead-based paint. And the response we get was the public doesn't demand it right now. So what we realized was it's important that people get the information. If there's no system in place to enable them to get the information they need, then the market simply cannot work. If they do have the information, then the market will set the price based on how much it cost to repair it. So the presence of lead-based paint will become just like any other housing defect. If a house has a leaky roof, for example, then the price will be adjusted accordingly to fix the leaky roof. Lead-based paint really is no different than that. If the property has lead-based paint hazards and they need to be fixed, then there will be an adjustment in the price to take care of that problem.

CURWOOD: I think that this would all upset landlords and realtors to have on more rule to worry about.

JACOBS: Well, that's an interesting story, actually. The National Association of Realtors was also one of our partners in introducing this rule, and they are in fact very much in favor of it. Why? Because it defines their standards of care. That is, it defines what they are supposed to do during property transactions. Some realtors have in fact been sued by parents of poisoned children who felt that the defect in the house had not been disclosed prior to the sale, and the last thing a realtor wants of course is to have a deal go sour afterwards.

CURWOOD: Now, are there any cases that you know of where the rules that have gone into effect would have stopped lead poisoning?

JACOBS: Yes. In fact, one of the parents who helped us introduce the rule basically said that if only I had known the fact that lead paint was present in my home, when I renovated the home I would not have poisoned my 2 little boys. What happened was she bought a home, and then, as many parents do, decided to fix it up. Part of that involved scraping and sanding some old paint, which happened to be lead-based paint. In the process of doing that, she produced a great deal of dust. The dust then contaminated soil, found its way into the child's body, she was pregnant at the time, and there were also effects on her unborn child. Now happily, those children are now doing reasonably well. But the reality is that if she had been told ahead of time, she could have taken some rather simple steps to make sure that they were not exposed. And there are many stories like that.

CURWOOD: How far do you think these rules are going to go to actually preventing lead poisoning?

JACOBS: Well, I hope it goes a very far way. This remains a major problem. There are still 1.7 million children who have elevated blood lead levels in this country. That's down from 4 and a half million 20 years ago, so the phase-out of lead in gasoline and food canning has worked. The major remaining high dose source that most children have in this country today is lead-based paint in housing and the contaminated dust and soil that it generates. So the hope here is that by putting these rules into place and by doing some other things, we will enable people to take the steps to protect their children.

CURWOOD: David Jacobs is director of the office of lead hazard control and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Thanks, sir, for joining us.

JACOBS: It's my pleasure. Thank you.



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