Public Safety informs residents of lead-based paint in college buildings: Older buildings at higher risk for exposure

Many of the older buildings around campus may contain lead paint, according to the EPA. (Photo by Brandon Marin ’22)

Before students returned to campus for the fall semester, the Lafayette Department of Public Safety notified residents of the presence of lead-based paint in college-owned buildings both on and off-campus.

Through emails sent in late July, Public Safety released summary reports of lead-based paint testing in residential buildings to occupants of those buildings. The reports and testing were compiled by the Pennsylvania-based engineering firm Spotts, Stevens and McCoy (SSM) in January of 2011.

The testing was prompted by a “huge survey” conducted by the college between 2010-12 to identify where lead paint was on campus, according to Matt Hammerstone, supervisor for the Environmental, Health and Safety division of Public Safety.

Residents were informed in the email from Public Safety that lead-based paint, when undisturbed and in good condition, does not pose a health threat. Students were instructed to sign a disclosure statement acknowledging the potential presence of lead-based paint in their homes from the office of residence life.

“In general, there’s really no health concern with a building having lead paint,” Hammerstone said. “It’s when the paint becomes deteriorated and in poor condition, that’s when there’s a health hazard.”

The email correspondence also included a pamphlet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is required to be given to residents of any building constructed before 1978 or in which there is known information about the presence of lead or lead testing.

Many of the Lafayette dormitories were constructed before 1978, including Conway, Easton, Gates, Kirby House, Marquis, Ruef, Soles, South College, Watson Courts and Watson Hall, according to the Lafayette website.

Additionally, many of the Greek life buildings on and off-campus could potentially contain lead paint. Chi Phi, Zeta Psi, Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Delta Upsilon, Pi Beta Phi and Phi Kappa Psi all have houses built before 1978.

While the report sent to students in the email contained testing results from 2011, Hammerstone said the college checks all of their properties twice a year, once during winter break and once over the summer.

“We go through and take a look at all the painted surfaces and say ‘oh, that’s chipped, that needs to get fixed,'” Hammerstone said.

During their biannual inspections, Hammerstone said that they look specifically for chipped paint, deteriorating paint, any signs of water damage, around the windows, and if there’s damage on the roof.

If there are issues, Hammerstone said that the work to repair the damage has to be contracted out, as Lafayette employees can’t do the work due to the safety training and respiratory protection needed.

In addition to checking the paint, Hammerstone said that 25% of all college buildings go through water testing during spring break each year, including a test for lead. The college rotates which buildings are tested each year so that every building is tested every four years.

“We have never had lead over the standard,” he said.

Joe Gill, Health Administrator for the City of Easton, said that the issue with lead in water is not the water itself, but rather the solder which is used in water piping.

“The water itself probably doesn’t have any lead in it, it’s the services that are bringing the lead to the people,” he said. “And all those things are checked, and newer buildings aren’t allowed to use lead solder anymore.”

“If you run your water for a minute before you even drink it, the lead level goes down,” Gill added. “So there’s things you should be doing.”

With regards to lead paint, Gill said that the “impact surfaces” such as doors and windows, are of greater concern due to the potential for disturbing the existing lead paint in older buildings.

“Windows, the window sills, the window frames, the window sashes, the door frames … you know, the paint is taking a beating,” he said. “That’s what we really look at.”

“Whereas if it’s a wall, even if it’s lead paint on the wall, if there’s three coats of paint over that lead paint and it’s not chipping, the lead paint is not an issue,” he added.

Gill said that the Easton Health Bureau is more concerned with the presence of lead paint in buildings that are frequently occupied by young children, due to the increased risk of damage to the developing brain.

“The windows are opening and closing all the time, which generates lead dust,” Gill said. “And the child plays in the window sills or the window wells and gets that dust on their hands or on their toys and then they put their hands in their mouth or the toys in their mouth, and that’s when the child gets an elevated level [of lead].”

“When the wind blows, it blows and [lead dust] falls right on the floor, usually in front of that window,” he added. “And again, children are crawling around on their hands and knees and they’re getting lead on them.”

Although the risk for brain damage is greater with young children, lead exposure carries negative health affects for adults as well.

“You don’t want the high lead levels in an adult,” Gill said. “It can affect you reproductively, it can affect your heart, your kidneys, things like that.”

The older the building, the greater the risk of lead. The EPA website says that houses built between 1960-1977 have a 24% chance of containing lead-based paint, while houses built before 1940 have a 87% chance.

Chi Phi house (1909), Zeta Psi house (1910), Alpha Gamma Delta house (1917), McKelvy (1888), Delta Gamma house (1919), Gates (1930), Marquis (1935), Phi Psi house (1909) and South College (1833) all likely contain lead-based paint, according to the EPA website.

For students living off-campus, landlords are required to provide the EPA pamphlet as well as provide testing results if lead testing was conducted and if an issue were found.

“The requirement is, if you have done sampling, you need to disclose those results,” Hammerstone said. “But there is no requirement to do sampling.”

Ansh Mishra ’21, a resident of the American Music House on Monroe Street, one of the buildings in which lead paint was found during the 2011 testing, said that it is “definitely concerning” that the physical testing of the buildings was most recently done over eight years ago.

“I want to ask the school why they have not replaced this at all, why does this have to be something they send out,” said Aidan Wood ’21, who also lives on Monroe Street. “Why haven’t they put the money into the houses to make them lead-paint free? That’s my question.”

About Andrew Hollander

Andrew Hollander ‘21 is the managing editor of The Lafayette. He studies psychology and Spanish.

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