More than 40 years after the 1978 ban on the use of lead-based paint in housing, millions of American children are being exposed to lead on a regular basis. “An estimated 15.2 million children in the U.S. go to schools in school districts that [have] lead-based paint,” reports The Conversation. This exposure to lead is occuring about 7 hours per day and five days per week. 

According to a federal report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 72% of U.S. school districts are not conducting inspections to identify buildings with lead-based paint. Of the school districts that have conducted inspections, over half discovered lead hazards. Of those that discovered lead, 58% did not notify parents, 46% did not inform school board members, and 59% did not disclose this information to the media. 

The Dangers of Exposure to Lead

According to the World Health Organization, “Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.” The dangers are especially serious to children, “because they absorb 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source.” 

Ingested lead is distributed to the brain, kidneys, liver and bones and is stored in teeth and bones. High levels of exposure can lead to coma, convulsions and even death. Lower exposure to lead that does not produce visible symptoms can lead to reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, increased antisocial behavior and reduced educational attainment. Unfortunately, the neurological and behavioral effects of lead cannot be reversed.

How Parents Can Respond to Lead Exposure

To help prevent lead poisoning, each child should be screened for elevated blood lead levels. In addition, parents should contact their local school district and ask about the possibility of lead-based paint in their child’s school. No child should be required to attend a school that still has lead-based paint — parents have the right to transfer their child to a lead-free school.