The state of Maine has a lot of older homes, and unfortunately that means we also have a lot of lead paint. This article covers what you and your family should know about lead: the risks, your rights, and programs that may be able to help you.
What is Lead and where is it found?
- Lead is a toxic metal that does not belong in the human body.
- Lead enters the body when people breathe in lead dust or swallow things with lead in them.
- Lead paint dust is the most common way Mainers become lead poisoned.
- Lead can also be found in other places like some imported goods, toys, soil, and water.
- Some jobs have high exposure to lead and workers can bring lead home on their clothes. Your employer must tell you if your job exposes you to lead.
There is no safe amount of lead in the body. Learn more about lead hazards for parents, health care providers, property owners, renters, and homeowners on the Maine CDC’s website.
Where is lead paint found in a home?
Lead was used in paint until 1978. People, especially children under the age of 6 and pregnant people, living in homes built before 1978 are at risk of lead poisoning. The most common places to find lead are:
- stairs, and
Even though many homes built before 1978 have lead paint, not all homes with lead paint are dangerous. Lead paint that is kept in good condition or that is fully covered is not likely to cause health problems.
If I rent a house or an apartment, does my landlord have to tell me if there is lead in the unit?
If your house or apartment was built before 1978, federal law requires your landlord to give you a lead disclosure form when you first rent the unit. You can see a sample lead disclosure form here (in English). Here is another lead disclosure in Spanish/En español.
If the landlord knows about lead in the building, the landlord must provide any inspection reports for the unit you will be renting. If you live in an apartment building, reports for common areas and other units in the building may need to be provided as well.
Even if your landlord does not know if there is lead in the home, if your building is built before 1978, your landlord must also give you a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.” It has information about how lead gets into the body, how it can affect health, and steps that can be taken to protect your family. The pamphlet explains lead safe work practices and gives information about other helpful resources.
If I am buying a home, does the seller have to tell me if there is lead?
Federal law requires sellers to give buyers any known information, including inspection reports, about lead in the building.
If you are buying a unit in a multi-unit building, the seller may need to give you reports for common areas and other units in the building. You can see a sample seller's lead disclosure form here.
Even if the seller does not know if there is lead in the home, if the building is built before 1978, the seller must also give you a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.” This pamphlet has information about how lead gets into the body, how it can affect health, and steps that can be taken to protect your family. It explains lead safe work practices and gives information about other helpful resources.
If you are buying a home built before 1978, you also have the right to do an inspection for lead-based paint within 10 days of signing a contract. If the lead hazards are too bad or the costs to fix them are too big, you may be able to cancel the contract. If you have any questions about your legal rights in a real estate contract, talk with a lawyer who can review the facts in your case to give you legal advice.
How can I tell if there is a risk of lead poisoning at my home?
The best way to tell if there are lead paint hazards in your home is to test for lead. There are several ways to do this:
Lead Dust Test Kit
The State of Maine gives free lead dust testing kits to Maine residents who have young children or are expecting a baby and live in homes built before 1950. You can order a free lead dust kit here.
If you live in a house built between 1950 and 1978 and are worried about unsafe renovations causing lead hazards, we recommend filling out the free lead dust kit form. Write in the “Questions or Comments” that unsafe repairs have been happening and you are worried about the children in your home. If you do not get your dust kit or have questions about whether you are eligible to get one, call 1-866-292-3474 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to talk with someone from the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit.
Sometimes it can take a few weeks for the lead dust test kit to come by mail. Once you get your test, you will find instructions inside. You can also watch this video showing how to do the lead dust test. It can take several weeks to get the results of your test.
3M Lead Check Tests
3M Lead Check tests are available online and at many local hardware stores. These tests are easy to use. When wiped on surfaces having unsafe lead, 3M Lead Check swabs turn red within 30 seconds. These tests have a low false positive rate, so if they turn red, you can be pretty sure that exposed lead is present. These tests are good for helping you make decisions about how to keep your family safe. They cost about $5 per stick and can only be used once.
To do the test, follow directions EXCEPT do not score (cut) through the paint. This is because unless you are trying to find out if there is lead before making repairs, your goal is not to expose lead paint, it is to see if there is lead already exposed. By cutting through the paint layers, you could be cutting through safe paint and exposing lead paint.
The best test to figure out whether there are lead paint hazards in your home is an environmental inspection. An environmental lead inspection is a test that is usually ordered and paid for by the State of Maine. These tests are usually ordered if a child in the home has tested positive for lead or if lead hazards have been found in a home.
If you have a Section 8 voucher and have young children or are expecting a baby, contact the Housing Authority that you work with to ask whether they can help arrange a lead inspection for your current or future unit. They may be able to get an environmental lead inspection ordered, or find another way to test your unit for lead.
There is lead paint in my home or I believe there is lead paint in my home. What can be done to prevent a lead poisoning?
Check Your Paint
If you have paint that is chipping, flaking, or peeling in your home and know or believe it is lead paint, don’t ignore it. If you live in a home built before 1978 and do not know whether paint is lead-based and you cannot test for lead paint, assume there is lead.
If you see chipping, flaking, or peeling paint:
- Ask your landlord to repair the paint as quickly as possible. Whenever you can, put your request in writing.
- Pick up any paint chips you see and throw them in the garbage.
- Do not let your children play near the areas where paint is chipping.
- Do not let your children play in the hall, stairs, or porch of an apartment building built before 1978.
- Do not let your children play near a window with old paint.
- Do not let your children play in or near dirt next to the home.
Lead Safe Cleaning
Lead-safe cleaning methods can help protect your family from lead dust in your home.
- Wash your children’s hands regularly, especially before eating.
- Wash toys regularly and keep them away from chipping paint.
- Use wet mops or rags to clean floors and wipe down windowsills weekly. Do not sweep unless you are trying to clean up a mess.
- Throw away cleaning rags used to wipe your floors and windowsills to avoid spreading lead.
- If you vacuum, try to use a HEPA filter to keep lead dust from spreading.
Lead Safe Repairs and Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule
If your building was built before 1978, there are Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rules for repairs that are made. These rules help make sure that work is done safely. Some of the rules are:
- You must get least 30 days’ notice of any non-emergency work that disturbs lead paint.
- A Renovate Right Pamphlet must be given to you. This pamphlet contains information about safe work practices, how lead affects health, and more.
- Workers must be properly certified and/or supervised.
- Work areas should only have folks who are wearing safety gear in them.
- Work may not be done near open windows.
- Lead paint chips and dust must be contained.
- The work areas must be cleaned and cleared as safe when work is done or before you are allowed in the area.
There are different rules which must be followed if the landlord is making repairs which are intended to get rid of lead paint hazards, instead of just keeping up the condition of the building. Taking steps to remove or permanently cover lead hazards is called “lead abatement.” If your landlord or their contractors are abating lead hazards, they must give at least 5 days written notice, and must follow strict safety rules.
How do I report violations of safe work rules or failure to follow lead disclosure laws?
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in charge of lead abatement work in Maine. This work must be done by properly certified contractors. Before beginning a lead abatement project, those contractors must send a work plan to the DEP for approval. They must also follow safe work practices on the job. If you want to know whether a contractor is following rules or doing work safely, you can contact the Maine DEP by calling Sandy Moody at (207) 292-0877.
You can also call the Maine DEP if you see unsafe work practices that likely disturb lead paint. The Maine DEP can enforce rules about Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) in emergency situations, which include active violations of the RRP rules. Examples of violations that create unsafe situations are:
- dry scraping of paint on a building built before 1978,
- using blue tarps or not having a barrier at all to catch paint chips during work, and
- scraping near open windows.
There are other unsafe work practices that are violations of RRP rules. If you have concerns, call the Maine DEP to report them and keep your community safe.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) handles Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) violations. Even if you have reported an ongoing RRP violation to the Maine DEP, the federal EPA should be notified. You can make a report by telephone at (888) 372-7341 (select #3, then #2), or through the EPA’s electronic RRP form.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also responsible for handling any violation of lead disclosure rules. If a landlord or seller of a home does not notify you about lead-based paint hazards at the property or fails to give you a Protect Your Family from Lead pamphlet, you should contact the EPA. You can make a report by telephone at (888) 372-7341 (select #3, then #2), or through the EPA’s electronic disclosure rule form.
How do I know if my child may have lead in their blood?
You cannot tell by looking at most kids if there is lead in their blood. That is why you should have your child tested for lead:
- at ages 1 and 2. This is because children these ages are moving around on the floor, touching things, and are more likely to touch lead dust.
- If they regularly play on the floor, or outside on the ground next to an older building, or if they often put things in their mouth, no matter their age.
- if they are under age 6 and have never been tested.
- if you recently moved into a home that may have lead paint
- if you believe your child might be at risk of lead poisoning.
What should I know about having my child’s blood lead level tested in Maine?
There are two ways that children have their blood tested for lead. One is called a capillary test, the other is called a venous test.
In Maine, the current action level is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl), which means there were five parts lead found in one million parts blood. If 5 µg/dl is found in your child’s blood after a test, follow up may be needed. Talk with your child’s medical provider about how you can help lower your child’s blood lead level.
A capillary test for lead is done by taking a small amount of blood from a child’s finger. Capillary tests are used as a screening tool to see if there may be too much lead in the blood. If a capillary test is positive at a blood lead level of 5 µg/dl or higher, you will need to get a venous blood test to confirm the results.
The State of Maine recommends that a confirmation venous test be done “within” a certain time of the capillary test. These recommendations are based on the medical need for follow up. But even though there may not be a medical need for quick follow up testing, there are important reasons to act quickly if you have a positive capillary test.
The State will not order any testing at your unit to find where the lead is coming from until the follow up testing is done. Because of this you should do a follow up venous test as quickly as possible. Delays in follow up testing can result in delays in removing dangerous lead hazards.
A venous test for lead is a blood draw taken from a vein. Venous tests give more accurate results. They are often more stressful for a child, which is why capillary screening may be done first. If lead is found in your child’s blood in an amount over 5 µg/dl in a venous test, and your child is under the age of 6, you will be contacted by the State of Maine’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit. An environmental lead investigation will be done to find the source of the lead so you can keep your child safe.
What is the role of the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit?
The Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit is part of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). They:
- order landlords to remove or cover lead when there is too much of it in a home.
- check whether orders to remove or cover lead are followed
- decide whether to penalize landlords if abatement orders are not followed
- get involved with a family after a child tests positive for lead in their blood or after lead has been found in a child’s home
- help families understand the risks of lead poisoning
- teach ways families can lower those risks (like cleaning methods and keeping children away from lead hazards until they can be fixed)
- issue orders that families be moved until lead hazards have been made safe if they believe it is necessary.
Families should know that the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit:
- is part of a State Agency and does not represent or work for individual families or children.
- considers more than just your family’s interests when deciding whether to give extensions, order relocation, or take action against landlords who are not following the law. They may not always issue orders you agree with.
- does not usually require landlords to move families to lead-safe housing until repairs are made.
- does not usually require landlords to pay for cleaning supplies needed to keep your family safe. You may need to ask for this to be ordered and explain why you cannot safely clean the unit without these supplies being paid for.
- often gives landlords extensions on deadlines to fix lead.
- does not always order environmental lead testing to find the source of lead in someone’s home even when the free dust kits they send show that there is more lead dust in the home than there should be.
If you want individual advice or someone to represent you in the lead abatement process, you can hire a lawyer. If you are concerned that the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit is not acting in a way that is protecting your family or has not done enough to make your landlord follow the law, you may ask to speak with a supervisor at the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit about your concerns. You can also contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance for advice.
I believe my child has health problems and/or developmental delays due to exposure to lead paint. What should I do?
If you believe your child has health problems and/or developmental delays because of being exposed to lead paint, you should:
- talk with your child’s medical provider about your concerns
- contact a personal injury attorney to talk about your concerns and your case
- save any medical reports or school testing records
The statute of limitations (how long you have to bring your child’s legal claims to court) does not start to run until your child reaches age 18. Your child has 6 years from the time they turn 18 to bring claims that happened before they turned 18. A personal injury lawyer can give you advice on the strength of your child’s claims, how to show the ways that lead may have hurt your child, and when you should file a case.
Updated May, 2023