From the early 1900s through the late 1970s, many federal and state agencies recommended the use of lead paint for its durability. In fact, many public housing projects built by Pres. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration in the mid-1930s specified the use of lead-based paint due to its durability.
This also was an era when homeowners often did not paint their own homes. Homeowners instead relied on the expertise of master painters, who were respected for their skills and knowledge of paints. These master painters often preferred paints with lead pigments.
Lead pigment was specifically desired for use in paint due to its durability. Lead paint adhered better to wood than any other paint known. Other paints cracked and peeled off surfaces when they expanded and contracted with the weather. Lead paint, however, was flexible – it stayed on with the weather and was virtually impermeable to water.
However, even during these years when the use of lead-based paint was promoted, there was an awareness of the dangers of lead-based paint. A 1935 broadcast in the Baltimore Health Department’s “Keeping Well” recommended discouraging a child from “putting toys or other objects into his mouth,” and “making sure that the child’s furniture, his crib and toys have been finished with a paint which does not contain lead.” The program noted that if the advice was followed, “no additional cases of lead poisoning in paint-eating children need ever occur.”
By the late 1940s, leading medical journals noted that the effort to eliminate lead-based paint hazards had been successful. In a 1947 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, it was noted “the public has been amply warned of lead hazards,” and, thus, lead poisoning was “almost wholly confined to those who are exposed in industry.”
The threat of deteriorating lead paint on interior walls came to light in the late 1940s. Public health investigations in Baltimore first identified the risks to young children of chipping and peeling interior lead paint in poorly maintained homes in late 1948. . Lead manufacturers helped fund Baltimore’s investigation and initiated additional studies at Harvard and John Hopkins medical schools.
In the 1950s, after the Harvard and Johns Hopkins studies confirmed the hazards of poorly maintained interior house paint, the paint industry worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Standards Association and other public health groups to develop a voluntary national standard that interior paint contain less than 1 percent lead.
The industry adopted this standard in 1955 and paint manufacturers placed warnings on paints containing more than 1 percent lead indicating that they should not be used on interior residential and other surfaces accessible to children.
In 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) formally banned lead (as of 1978) along with asbestos and other substances.
It is important to note the hazard from lead-based paint is from its dust or deterioration. If the lead-based paint is intact, it does not pose a health hazard.
When evaluating the statistics on the number of children tested for lead, it is interesting to note that the percentages have been declining from 1997 – 2007. In 1997, just over 7.5% of children tested had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By 2007, that statistic had dropped to about 1%.
Different states have varying blood level percentages … some well under 1%, some as low as .2%
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