To Protect Children from Lead Paint Exposure, We Need to Identify and Remove Lead Paint from Schools


Why Are We STILL Talking About Lead Paint in Schools?

On July 22, 2022, new lead laws came into effect in New Jersey covering lead paint testing for rental units and lead service line replacement for municipalities. Governor Murphy also included $170 million dollars for home lead paint remediation in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. This funding is a great step towards  remediating lead in the home, but what about the lead in our schools?

Lead is a heavy metal that is often found in many different objects, including in paint. Paint containing small lead particles and other materials is often found on the exterior of buildings, on the ground outside of buildings, and on the inside of windows and doors. When lead paint is disturbed, whether scraped or sanded, the lead particles can become airborne and may be breathed in by children.

As of 2019, about a third of public school students at public schools, totalling about 15.3 million students, attended schools that contained lead paint. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the most common source of lead exposure for children comes from paint in buildings built before 1978—the year the government banned the sale of lead-based paint. In schools, lead dust can be created  during renovations when lead paint is disturbed, as well as from deteriorating lead paint and lead-contaminated soil. 

The health effects of lead paint exposure depend on the amount of lead that a child is exposed to, but there is no safe level of lead exposure. Lead can be especially harmful if it is inhaled or ingested, causing health problems including:

  •         Brain Damage
  •         Learning Disabilities
  •         Behavior Problems
  •         Mental Health Problems
  •         Heart Problems
  •         Cancer

Lead Paint in Schools (Inspect,Test, Remove)

To identify the presence of lead paint in schools, we must rely on a combination of tests and inspections. Inspections can identify lead paint on the exterior of buildings, on the ground outside of buildings, and on the inside of windows and doors. You can assume, unless it has been remediated, if the building was built before 1978, it has lead paint. Using this date as a reference is the simplest and safest approach to identify lead. 

You can also hire a certified professional or there are a number of lead test kits available commercially. Tests can identify the level of lead in the paint and the type of lead paint, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission states that consumers should exercise caution when using test kits because of potential exposure and unreliability.  

Lead paint removal from schools can be accomplished through a variety of methods, including abatement, encapsulation, and abatement with lead-safe coatings:

Abatement is the most common method used to remove lead paint from schools. Abatement  involves the use of a variety of chemicals and equipment to remove the paint from the walls, ceilings, and floors.

Encapsulation is another common method used to remove lead paint from schools, and uses a sealant to cover the lead paint and to keep it isolated from the external environment. The sealant is then removed over time, and the paint can be removed without damaging the underlying surfaces.

Abatement with lead-safe coatings is another option used to remove lead paint from schools, involving the use of a lead-safe paint that is resistant to damage from the environment and the use of a special abatement equipment to properly apply the coating to seal in the lead paint.

Schools can also remove lead paint from walls and floors using a variety of other methods, including sanding, scraping, and painting with the proper safeguards and equipment in place to prevent the particles being released into air and breathed in in the form of lead dust. Sanding and scraping are less favorable because of what is required to secure the area from releasing the particles into common areas. One common method is to use a chemical stripper, which softens the paint so that it can be scraped off and disposed of without releasing particles into the air the way dry sanding or scraping would do. This method is effective, but it can be dangerous if not done correctly.

According to a 2016 report published by the New Jersey Education Association Review (NJEA), “Local associations have the law on their side when it comes to lead-based paint. Locals can have federal and New Jersey laws enforced if school districts don’t do the right thing. Note that lead-based paint abatement activities are regulated differently than renovation, repair, and painting jobs, even though activities are similar. 

New Jersey regulations apply to inspection, risk assessment, project design and abatement activities. EPA regulations apply to renovation, repair, and painting. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations apply to both.”1  

 Don’t be discouraged by the different levels of enforcement. While they can be confusing, the regulators can help you understand where to go for remediation help. Start with local New Jersey regulations and work ‘upward’ if you need additional help.

How to Work with School Administrators

If you are concerned that your child’s school may contain lead paint, there are a few ways to test for it. You can purchase a lead paint testing kit at your local hardware store, or you can request that an administrator hire a professional to test for lead paint.

Working with school administrators to remove lead paint from schools can be a daunting task. However, it is important to remember that they are ultimately responsible for the safety of the students and staff in their school. Here are a few tips to help you to successfully work with school administrators to remove lead paint from schools:

  • Establish a rapport with the administrators. It is important that they see you as a partner in this process, not an adversary.
  • Be prepared to answer their questions. They will likely want to know about the health risks associated with lead paint, the removal process, and the costs involved.
  • Work with them to develop a plan. They will need to be involved in the decision-making process in order to ensure that the removal process is done safely and effectively.
  • Be patient. This is a complex issue, and it will take time to develop and implement a plan.
  • Be flexible. The administrators may have ideas that you hadn’t considered. Be open to hearing them out and working together to find the best solution.

Knowledge is Power – Share what you Learn!

There are several ways to advocate for lead paint removal:

  • Educate yourself and others about the dangers of lead poisoning and the benefits of lead paint removal.
  • Contact your local representatives and let them know that you support lead paint removal programs.
  • Write letters to the editor or opinion pieces advocating for lead paint removal.
  • Work with local organizations to identify homes and child care facilities that need lead paint removal.
  • Help raise funds to support lead paint removal programs.


REMEMBER—There is No Safe Lead Level! Follow us on our social media channels and sign-up for our newsletter on our website for our next blog announcement. Keep up with the latest information on lead in New Jersey. In our next blog, we will share information about lead advocacy and what you can do by highlighting our hub partners!