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QUESTION: Ensuring lead safe housing before a baby is conceived. 13 May 2004, California USA

My wife and I want to have a baby and yet after reading various articles in regard to lead based paint and pregnancy. I am still in doubt of our home. Maybe you can help.

We live in a 1 bedroom apt which is fairly big and well maintained as well as the rest of the building. Although the building is old and has signs of lead based toxicity warnings. The apartments are intact and clean.

We like this apartment and location very much but of course the baby comes first. So we are looking around for other options but it is getting hard to find something similar.

What would you recommend?

Thank you for your advice.

ANSWER: 13 May 2004

Dear Walter,

What a lucky baby you are going to have! This is true primary preventive health in action and you are located in possibly the best place on earth (California) to ensure your baby never becomes lead poisoned. I wish I could say the same for everyone on the planet! While it has been argued in public health terms that the only way to prevent lead poisoning in the long term on a societal scale, is to eradicate lead from a child's environment altogether [

[In Primary Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning — The Only Solution (available for purchase or by subscription only ) By John F. Rosen, M.D., and Paul Mushak, Ph.D. N Engl J Med 2001; 344:1470-1471 May 10, 2001, you can read why full lead paint removal is the best public health policy and best for all the future residents/tenants of a home, childcare centre or other building.

Full article available here:, also attached.

 Their 2-page article states, inter alia:

“For the primary prevention of lead poisoning from paint, we recommend permanent abatement -- that is, the complete removal or replacement of lead paint before a child lives in a home.”]

It has also been argued that an individual child can be prevented from being lead poisoned by making their home lead-safe (rather than lead-free). This is indeed the basis of nearly all Lead Poisoning Prevention Programs in the United States, making the United States the most advanced country in the world in terms of lead poisoning prevention policies. The rest of the world seems mostly ignorant even of the need to make housing lead-safe, let alone lead-free.

It sounds as though your home has been made lead-safe but you could investigate whether this is the case by contacting the building managers and / or the Health Department. From your email, I feel certain that you are capable of informing yourself sufficiently and taking the appropriate actions to bring a lead-safe baby into the world in your current home. You hardly sound like the kind of person who would, in ignorance, start dry-sanding or heat gunning the paint off the walls, or leave flaking or chalking paint, if it developed, unattended. You can always organise for a licensed lead inspector (the licensed lead inspector is a privilege only available in the United States) to test lead in soil and dust around your home to be certain the home complies with US guidelines - the most stringent in the world.

Best wishes for a lead-safe future.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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