In October, Claire Larson ’15 discovered lead paint in her woodframe house. After having a friend’s mother come to the University with an at-home lead kit to confirm the findings, the various paint samples tested positive. Larson attempted to contact the University about her discovery, but the administration never responded to her concerns.
“We tested the window frames in my bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen,” Larson wrote in an email to The Argus. “We also tested the doorframe entering my room as well as our porch. They all tested very positively. I have pictures of the tests we used with the results showing.”
Lead is a dangerous and potent neurotoxin that can be present in housing built before 1978.
According to Executive Director of Lead Safe America Foundation Tamara Rubin, opening and closing a painted wooden window in a building on a regular basis will easily create dust-lead levels throughout the entire building.
“Health impacts include increased risks of kidney failure and heart disease, immune system compromises, brain injury—ranging from memory impairments and executive function to an increased risk of early onset Alzheimer’s,” Rubin wrote in an email to The Argus.
Rubin also added that from her perspective as a mother of an 18-year-old, her biggest concern for a population of college-age students is the impact on reproductive health.
“Lead exposure (even at levels that were once considered insignificant) have been shown to cause an increased risk of infertility, of miscarriage/spontaneous abortion—and in maternal blood lead—low-birthweight and pre-term labor for newborns,” Rubin said. “A paper published just last month highlighted the risk of even ‘population level’ lead-exposure to maternal and newborn health…. [This] research team determined that even very low levels that were previously considered ‘trace’ exposure—can have demonstrable detrimental health impacts for mother and baby.”
She further explained that if the exposure is more than just a trace, adults can suffer from headaches, fatigue, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, and other immediate symptoms from lead exposure.
While the use of lead paint was banned in 1978, Physical Plant explained the the University has several licensed lead inspectors on staff and there are Physical Plant staff members who have completed required training for working safely with lead based paint.
“Reports of peeling or chipping paint should be made to physical plant by calling 3400 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org,” Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe wrote in an email to The Argus. “At the beginning of each school year we encourage every student to complete a room condition report in the event that we’ve missed something during our summer inspections. After receiving a report of damaged lead paint, physical plant will investigate and will mitigate the risk of exposure by removing, and/or encapsulating any damaged lead based paint.”
Rubin added that if students find lead paint in their homes they should report it to the facilities department.
“[These students should] demand immediate repainting or repair of any surfaces that test positive,” Rubin wrote. “….Students should also make sure that the contractors that are doing work on homes where lead paint is present are EPA RRP certified. This is a legal requirement—and if the contractor is not certified they face potential fines of $37,500 per incident per day.”
In addition, Rubin explained that to be certain, students should ask to see the contractors current and valid EPA RRP certificate.
“Residents should never stay in the home when lead work is being done, and it is reasonable to expect landlords to cover temporary relocation costs during the work period (and the period of time to wait for a ‘passed clearance test.’),” Rubin wrote.
Topshe spoke to the federal laws regarding lead-based paint.
“Federal law requires that landlords disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect,” she said. “Several years ago Wesleyan adopted the same protocol in the student housing contract as a best practice. All students are now required to read and acknowledge the lead disclosure for their housing and the EPA’s pamphlet “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home” prior to entering the housing lottery.”
University President Roth explained that there are some disadvantages to having older houses on campus.
“These are old houses and that’s part of what people like about them, but there are sometimes problems with old houses,” Roth said. “They have to be addressed. We’re not going to take down the houses to get rid of the paint, you know, unless the paint is the only thing holding them up.”
Rebecca Caspar-Johnson ’15 stated that woodframe residents were informed about the presence of lead paint and taught how to avoid health risks.
“I think that it’s a valid thing for the University to bring to our attention,” Caspar-Johnson said. “But I think that people should pay attention to what they sign and if they’re signing a waiver then they know that it’s present and they know how to take care of themselves if they pay attention to the lecture that we were given…. There are a lot of very real problems that are facing the Wesleyan community right now and it just seems silly to invent one that a, is probably not a real concern and b, could be solved by people taking a little ownership for their own health and safety.”
Larson explained that she is unsure where to go next.
“I’m not sure what the school will do about it if anything, my friends mother attempted to email President Roth and he wouldn’t speak with her,” Larson wrote. “She has friends involved in lead paint issues and has the access to free tests for anyone else who would like to test their homes…. We would like to see the school take interest in and handle this issue quickly and efficiently.”