Lead Poisoning, Protection, and Enforcement

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Lead is a toxic metal that is common in houses built in Rhode Island before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned for use in homes in the U.S. Nearly 80% of Rhode Island’s housing was built before 1978 and therefore has a high likelihood of containing lead.

While lead is toxic to everyone, it is especially dangerous for children younger than 6 years old and pregnant people. Even a small amount of lead can harm a child’s development and can cause serious health problems including learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and reduced attention span. Lead may also pass from a pregnant person to an unborn baby which can increase the risk of miscarriage, damage the baby’s brain, kidneys, or nervous system, and cause the child to have learning or behavior difficulties. Lead poisoning can have life-long effects.

Fortunately, lead poisoning is preventable.

Lead can enter the body when it is inhaled or ingested. Contact with lead is also known as “exposure.” Because young children frequently put their hands, toys, and other things in their mouths, they are more likely to ingest lead or lead dust.

You can take action to protect children from lead poisoning. The key is to eliminate lead hazards. Lead can be found in many places inside and around a home. Lead hazards can include peeling and chipping lead paint, dust from lead paint, soil and dirt in the yard, tap water from lead pipes, and pottery, crystal, or ceramic dishes.

The most frequent exposure in Rhode Island comes from lead-based paint and paint dust found in homes built before 1978. You can take temporary measures to minimize exposure to lead hazards such as covering peeling or flaking paint with contact paper or duct tape and continuously washing windows, doorways, floors, and dusty areas with a wet mop or cloth. More serious lead hazards may require treatment by a licensed lead professional.

Learn more about lead poisoning prevention from the Rhode Island Department of Health website.

Testing is the only way to know if your child has lead in their body. A simple blood test is all that is needed. The test result will show how much lead is in the blood (also called “blood lead level”) and will be measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL). If a test shows blood lead levels of 5 mcg/dL or more, the child has an elevated blood lead level under Rhode Island Department of Health standards.

It’s important to know that no amount of lead is known as safe in children. Even a small amount of lead can affect a child’s health.

Every child between nine months and three years of age should be tested for lead poisoning, at least twice. Testing is generally done once per year. A doctor may recommend more frequent testing if the results are not normal. Talk to your child's doctor for more information.

Lead screening tests for children younger than six years old are free. Rhode Island insurance companies and Medicaid fully cover the expense of the test. Lead screening for children without insurance is offered free of charge at St. Joseph  Health Center at 877 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence, Rhode Island (telephone: 401-519-3502).

No amount of lead is known as safe in children. If testing shows there is lead in your child’s blood, you should talk to their doctor to see if medical treatment is needed.

If your child has an elevated blood lead level (blood lead levels of 5 mcg/dL or more), you will be contacted by a case manager from RIDOH, who will coordinate the services to make sure your child receives the help they need and to prevent further exposure. You should accept all services offered by RIDOH, including non-medical case management and a lead inspection. Once the inspection is completed, you and the property owner will be informed of the damaged location and how to repair it. It is the property owner’s responsibility to correct the hazards.

If your child’s blood lead level is above 0 mcg/dL, but less than 5 mcg/dL, you should contact the property owner and request a copy of the Certificate of Conformance or other lead compliance certification, which is proof that the property does not currently have lead hazards. If you nonetheless believe there is lead on the property (for example, there is damaged, peeling, or chipping paint on the property), and/or the property owner does not provide you with a valid Certificate of Conformance or other lead compliance certification, you should make a complaint to your local code enforcement agency.

For more information, call the RIDOH Health Information Line at 401-222-5960 or visit RIDOH’s website.

If you are the owner, you can contact a licensed lead professional to inspect the property for potential lead hazards and work with a licensed lead renovation firm to fix them. You can learn more on RIDOH’s website.

If you are a tenant, the property owner of a non-exempt dwelling is required to inform you of known or potential lead hazards. They may also be required to have proof that the building does not have lead hazards. You can request a Certificate of Conformance or other lead compliance certification from the owner. Over time, lead hazards that have been covered up can become exposed; therefore, it is important that the property owner is able to provide you with an unexpired certificate. If the Certificate of Conformance or other lead compliance certification is unobtainable or expired, you can request a reinspection and/or contact your local code enforcement official. The property owner must respond to your concerns and fix lead hazards.

If the property owner fails to meet requirements for disclosing and correcting lead hazards or does not have a lead compliance certificate for a non-exempt property, you may file a complaint by contacting your local code enforcement agency.

You have a right to safe, healthy housing. Retaliation by a property owner is illegal. You may not be retaliated against for making requests to fix lead hazards or for contacting a government agency, such as code enforcement, about unsafe living conditions.

If you feel a property owner has retaliated against you, you should contact a lawyer; free legal services may be available. The Rhode Island Center for Justice can be reached at 401-491-1101, and Rhode Island Legal Services can be reached at 401-274-2652.

If you believe that you have been unlawfully evicted from your home, or the property owner has attempted to unlawfully evict you, without going through the required court process, you should contact the free legal services providers noted above, call your local police department, and/or contact the Attorney General’s Office at 401-274-4400 (option 4) or file an online civil rights complaint form.

Yes. RIDOH’s lead poisoning prevention regulations require you to provide tenants with all current lead certificates, including Certificates of Conformance. 

Yes, you are required to respond to concerns and fix lead hazards on your property. The hazards must be corrected as directed in the Rhode Island lead laws.

Fixing lead hazards in an unsafe manner can significantly increase the chance of lead exposure for you and your tenants. In many cases, the law requires that a RIDOH-certified lead renovation firm perform the repairs to ensure that lead-safe work practices are being followed. To learn more and find a licensed lead professional visit RIDOH’s website

Yes, RIHousing’s LeadSafe Homes Program provides forgivable loans to cover the costs associated with addressing lead paint problems and other unsafe conditions in homes built before 1978. Cities or towns may also offer financial assistance programs, such as Providence’s Lead Safe Providence Program and Woonsocket’s Lead Hazard Reduction Program. Information on these programs can be found on RIDOH’s website.

Additionally, the Rhode Island Residential Lead Abatement Income Tax Credit provides property owners with a tax credit of up to $5,000 per housing unit for money spent to correct lead hazards. To learn more and download the Residential Lead Abatement Income Tax Credit Form RI-6238, visit the Rhode Island Division of Taxation’s website.

Once RIDOH or local code enforcement notifies you that your rental unit(s) contains lead hazards, you may be given time to respond to the concern and correct the hazards. If you fail to fix the lead hazards, you may be charged with civil penalties of up to $5,000 per day for each day the violation exists.

You can use deeds to determine if a property was built before 1978 by checking the date of the oldest deed or checking to see if any deed on file is dated before 1978. Your local tax assessor’s office may also have an online database of homes in your city or town that includes the year they were built. For more information, contact your local county clerk or tax assessor’s offices.

Yes, homes built before 1978 have a high likelihood of containing lead-based paint. Unless a licensed lead professional’s test shows that the paint is not lead-based, you should assume all surfaces painted before 1978 are lead hazards.

Similarly, plumbing materials in homes can contribute lead to your drinking water. Lead can enter drinking water from lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures (brass is an alloy that often contains lead), or from soldered copper pipes installed before 1987. The only way of knowing if your drinking water contains lead is to have it tested by a state certified lab. To learn how to evaluate your drinking water’s risk of lead contamination and steps to take to prevent and control it, visit RIDOH’s website

RIDOH maintains a database of properties that have lead violations on their website. This includes properties that are considered unsafe for habitation by children younger than six because they have been the sites of multiple child lead poisonings. It also includes properties that have received two notices about lead hazards that they have not yet corrected.

RIDOH is currently in the process of adding records of Certificates of Conformance and other lead compliance certificates to their database.

Please note that this database does not show a complete list of properties containing lead hazards. If you own a non-exempt pre-1978 property and you are unsure if your  property contains lead and/or you lack a valid lead compliance certificate, you  must reach out to a certified lead inspector to obtain an inspection and the required certificate.

For additional information regarding lead training courses, licensing requirements for lead professionals, lead safe work practices, and lead poisoning screening for children, please visit www.health.ri.gov/lead.

To learn more about the dangers of childhood lead poisoning, you can also visit the Childhood Lead Action Project at www.leadsafekids.org.

To learn about the requirements for removal of lead-based paint from exterior surfaces, see Department of Environmental Management regulation No. 24 and Air Pollution Control regulation No. 5.