Most of the triple-deckers that line numerous East Boston Streets were built well before 1950, especially those in Eagle Hill. In these homes and the neighborhoods Victorians have layers and layers of old lead-based paint that covers woodwork, staircases and windowsills.
When homeowners or investors begin renovating these houses or when landlords allow buildings to fall into disrepair it creates an unsafe living condition for hundreds of children.
Risk for childhood lead poisoning continues across Boston and, according to the Lead Action Collaborative Agency (LACA), East Boston population has a high number of affected children compared to other neighborhoods. Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable disease that affects a child’s development, including speech, hearing, learning, and behavior. Research shows that even small amounts of lead exposure can have permanent effects on a child’s development – leading to developmental delays, learning disabilities, and other problems.
The Boston Public Health Commission’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program are now encouraging homeowners, businesses, and contractors to ‘Renovate Right’. The Commission is offering free de-leading training in East Boston at the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) offices at 143 Border Street to help combat rising levels of childhood lead poisoning in and around the neighborhood. The one-day workshop is held monthly at NOAH, and covers safety and cleaning procedures and Massachusetts Lead Law requirements. Spanish classes are available. For date and time information or to register for the next class, call NOAH at 617-567-5882.
Only North and South Dorchester have more children than East Boston with Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL). Leon Bethune, director of the Environmental Health Office at the Boston Public Health Commission and member of LACA said this is because there is such a large percentage of residents who speak a language other than English and there is a need for educating people about lead poisoning in their own language.
The most common source is lead paint on windows, which, when open and closed, can cause lead dust. The dust settles on floors, carpets, windowsills, and children’s toys, which can be particularly dangerous. During renovations, this risk of exposure to lead paint is more acute.
This is true for East Boston, where a major source of lead exposure is lead paint dust from renovation work. Many people renovating houses haven’t been trained in lead safe work practices and lead dust isn’t properly contained or cleaned up after work is completed. Children who move into the renovated house can be exposed to lead dust if it hasn’t been cleaned up, and children of the workers may also be exposed because the lead dust can cling to the workers’ clothing. Another related cause of lead exposure in the neighborhood is the deterioration of three family housing stock in East Boston, particularly in the Eagle Hill area.
The Massachusetts Lead Law protects children under the age of six years old who live in a home built before 1978. Owners of property where children under six reside should hire a licensed lead inspector to test the home for lead paint. If there is lead paint in the home, the property owner must have it removed or covered by an authorized person in accordance with the Massachusetts Lead Law. It is illegal for a landlord to evict or refuse to rent to families with children because of lead paint.
New federal regulations, effective April 22, 2010, require “lead safe” work practices for remodeling, renovation, and painting activities. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) will require that at least one contractor (per job) working on a pre-1978 residential building or child-care facility take an eight-hour certification class on “lead-safe” work practices. The certification must be renewed every five years by completing a four-hour refresher course.
Businesses that renovate, remodel, and paint must also be certified by the USEPA. A two-day class leading to a certification may also be taken at NOAH free of charge.
Healthy renovating — Tips and guidelines
When renovating, take the following precautions to minimize the release of lead dust in the air.
• Keep children and expectant mothers away from home renovations.
• Work on one room at a time using methods that create the least amount of dust.
• Buy or rent a HEPA vacuum.
• Cover your face with a mask that is made for lead paint removal (available at your local hardware store); paper masks offer no protection against lead dust.
• Use 6 mil plastic to close off the work area and remove all furniture, appliances, drapes, children’s toys, clothing, and personal items from the room.
•Use 6 mil plastic to cover heating ducts, vents, and grates and turn off forced air heating or air conditioning in the room you are working on.
• Wet surfaces before scraping or sanding to minimize dust.
• During exterior renovations, cover vegetable gardens with 6 mil plastic to prevent lead from getting into soil; cover sandboxes, play equipment, and outdoor furniture.
The 6 mil plastic should extend out to 8-10 feet from the foundation of the house to prevent paint chips or lead dust from contaminating the yard.
• Wash all surfaces with detergent during clean-up.