Environmental Health

Lead Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Q.   What is lead?

Lead is a bluish-gray, soft metallic element used in many household and industrial items from brass fixtures to batteries, and fine crystal to paint.

Q.   What are the properties of lead which have caused it to be widely used?

  • Lead will not rust, oxidizes at an extremely slow rate, it will exist for a very long time in a solid state.
  • Lead was used as a pigment and drying agent in “alkyd” (oil based) paint. Note: “Latex” (water based) paint, generally does not contain lead.
  • Lead melts at a very low temperature and solidifies rapidly which makes it ideal for use in solder.
  • Lead cannot be penetrated by X-rays.
  • Lead is extremely malleable and can be drilled or sawn easily.
  • There is no economical metal heavier than lead.
  • Lead is not easily corroded and is ideal for car batteries and lining tanks which contain corrosive liquids. It is also used to protect metal wires and steel structures from corrosion.

Q.   What are sources of lead exposure?


  • Paint: Lead was used in house paint until it was banned in 1978.  Dust and chips can be generated whenever it deteriorates or is scraped or sanded.
  • Soil: Lead was widely used in gasoline until 1974, when a gradual regulated phase out began. Lead can be found in high concentrations in the soil surrounding high traffic routes as a result of leaded gasoline fallout.  Lead can also be found in the soil surrounding buildings or structures painted with lead-based paint.
  • Water: Drinking water may contain lead due to the use of lead pipes or lead solder. The use of lead pipes and solder (for potable water supplies) was banned in 1987.
  • Other: Lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain

Following are some occupations which might result in occupational lead exposure:

  • Battery manufactures
  • Auto mechanics
  • Metal smelters & lead-reclamation plants
  • Miners, especially lead miners
  • Glass manufactures
  • Painters
  • Plastic manufactures
  • Printers
  • Ceramic or crystal ware manufactures
  • Lead abatement workers
  • Steel welders or cutters


  • Oil painting
  • Stained glass
  • Pottery making
  • Refinishing furniture
  • Hunting or fishing equipment
  • Lead soldering

Other areas of exposure

Note: “Lead” pencils manufactured today DO NOT contain lead; they contain graphite.  

Q.   What is considered to be an unacceptable level of lead in paint?  

Lead-based paint is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as any paint that contains more than 0.5 percent lead by weight (or about 1 milligram per square centimeter of painted surface). This is the "action level" at which the EPA recommends removal of lead paint if it is deteriorating and chipping.

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Lead in Drinking Water

Q.   Why is lead in drinking water dangerous?

Since lead is easily absorbed into the blood stream and our bodies cannot distinguish lead from other minerals, it is rapidly assimilated by the body when a person drinks water containing lead.

Q.   How does lead get into drinking water?

Typically, lead gets into drinking water from the plumbing fixtures in your house which may contain lead solder.  As a result of corrosion, lead and other metals from the pipes dissolve into the water.  If you have a private well, there are other ways that lead can get into your drinking water, such as from well parts made of lead, or from a nearby industrial waste facility or municipal landfill.

Q.   What factors affect how much lead can get into my drinking water?

  • Type of plumbing materials:  
    Lead solder was used routinely until it was banned in 1987 to seal the joints of copper pipes.  Lead solder typically contained about 50% lead.  Sloppy soldering can increase the amount of lead that is dissolved into the water.  Brass fixtures and faucets can contain up to 8% lead and are also a significant source of lead in drinking water.
  • Length of time that water stands in pipes:
    The longer the time that water resides in the plumbing, the more likely it is that lead will build up in drinking water.
  • Corrosivity of water:
    Corrosive water can increase the amount of lead that can get into drinking water.  Corrosive water can be caused by high acidity or low mineral content.  Acidic water tends to dissolve lead from pipes and solder into water.  Typically, minerals form a protective barrier or “scale” around lead solder and therefore decrease the amount of lead that can get into the water. One indicator of corrosion in copper pipes is a blue-green stain around the drain of a white enamel sink.  The absence of such a stain does not mean that corrosion is not occurring.  Public water companies are required to correct this problem if it occurs.

Q. How can I tell if my water has lead in it?

The best way to tell how much lead is in your water is to have it tested by a laboratory certified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Quality Assurance/Laboratory Certification.  For more information on how to contact this office, please refer to the DOH.

NJ Department of Environmental Protection

Q.   How can I reduce the level lead in my drinking water?

  • Flush the water.
    If the water from the cold water faucet has not been used for several hours, such as overnight, let it run for 15 to 30 seconds (when the temperature of the water changes) before using it for drinking, cooking or preparing beverages.
  • Don’t consume water from the hot water faucet.
    Always use fresh water from the cold water tap.
  • Don’t boil water excessively.  
    Excessive boiling may increase the concentration of lead in water due to evaporation.
  • Avoid using lead-based cookware.  
    Cookware made outside of this country may contain lead, which will contaminate food during cooking.
  • Water filtration systems.  
    If you purchase a water filtration system, be certain that it is “certified” for lead removal before making the investment.


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Health Effects

Q.   Why is lead dangerous?

The effects of lead-poisoning on children can be devastating. Just 10 micrograms of lead per day (the equivalent of 3 grains of sugar) can place a child in danger.   Irreversible learning disabilities as well as lowered intelligence are the usual result. Lead poisoning occurs when lead has been introduced into the bloodstream by ingestion and inhalation of lead dust or fumes.  Our bodies cannot distinguish lead from other minerals, like iron and calcium, which our bodies actually need, and sends it directly to vital organs.  Lead is then deposited in these organs as well as our brain and bone marrow.  Women of childbearing age and children under the age of six are considered to be at the highest risk. 

Q.   Why are pregnant women and children at such a high risk?  

Pregnant women are at a high risk for lead poisoning because any lead that they are exposed to transfers directly to the unborn baby.  The main reason for this is the way a child’s body assimilates lead (thinking it is a vital nutrient).  In addition, children (both unborn and born) have bodies which are still developing, and a low body weight.  In addition, small children have a high rate of hand/toy-to-mouth contact.

Q.   How does lead get from the paint into my child?

Children can get lead poisoning by:     

  • Putting hands or toys with lead dust on them in their mouths
  • Eating lead paint chips that peel off the wall
  • Chewing on windows sills, door frames or any other lead painted surface

Q.   Should my child be screened for lead poisoning?

If you live in a home built before 1978, your children should be tested.  Children between the ages of nine months through five years are at the greatest risk for lead poisoning.  Children with lead poisoning might not look sick.  Ask your doctor to perform a blood test on your children to screen for lead in their blood.  Most children will have a test result below 10 ug/dl (micrograms per deciliter) of lead in their blood.  Ask your doctor to explain the results.  If you or your doctor have questions about the results, you should contact the NJDOH, Family Health Services, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Q.   Where can I get my child and/or myself tested, and how much would it cost?

Your private physician or local health department can test for blood-lead tests.  Many private insurance policies cover the cost blood-lead levels.  Children covered by Medicaid are eligible for free screening.  The cost of a blood-lead test generally ranges from $10 to $75, plus the charge of an office visit.

Q.   When is a person considered “lead-poisoned”?

Lead replaces the calcium and/or iron in the hemoglobin. Lead can be stored in tissue and bones for several years and may reach a toxic level later in life. The normal level of lead in the blood is 0-10 ug/dl, a person has lead poisoning when blood levels are above 15 ug/dl, and levels greater than 45 ug/dl are considered medical emergencies where hospital treatment is advised. One hundred to 150 ug/dl is lethal in children.

Q.   What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning produces a variety of symptoms that are often overlooked as everyday medical complaints:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Lack of concentration
  • Learning disabilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hearing dysfunction
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Miscarriage
  • Moodiness

Q.   What are some of the medical problems that can occur as a result of lead poisoning?

Children with high levels of lead in their bodies may suffer damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, and headaches. One in six children in the USA have unsafe blood-lead levels, one in eleven have dangerous blood-lead levels. Over 1.7 million children now have blood-lead levels above safe limits, mostly due to exposure to lead-based paint hazards.
Women may suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, other reproductive problems (both men and women), high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.        
Additional problems which may result from lead poisoning, include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Wrist or foot drop
  • Anorexia
  • Anemia
  • Seizures
  • Colic
  • Convulsions
  • Tremors

Q.   Is there a cure for lead poisoning?

The most crucial treatment for lead-poisoning is to stop exposure.  Removing the lead from a person’s environment helps to ensure a decline in blood-lead levels.  The longer a person is exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that damage to the person’s health will result.  In some cases, medications are used to lower blood-lead levels.

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Testing For Lead

Q.   What are the appropriate testing methods?

  • Chemical Spot Testing
    A solution is applied to a painted surface which causes a chemical reaction (indicated by a color change) if lead is present. This test is quick and inexpensive, but it is not accurate. This test determines lead is present but not how much is present. Chemical Spot Testing is destructive, as paint must be scraped to test lower level of sample.
  • X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF)
    This method involves expensive instrumentation which exposes a radioactive source to a surface to determine the percentage of lead. Results are immediately available and usually accurate depending on the training of the operator. It is expensive and may encounter some difficulties when sampling irregular surfaces or different subsurface materials such as brick or metal and may require laboratory         verification.
  • Paint Chip Sampling
    This method calls for cutting paint chips as samples to be sent to a laboratory or analysis. The advantages include its accuracy because these samples are analyzed in a laboratory. It is destructive and can take several days to get results.

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What to Do if You Have Lead

Q.   What can I do to protect my family and myself from lead poisoning?


  • Keep children away from peeling or chipping paint and accessible or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint, especially window sills and window wells.              
  • Cleaning floors, window frames, window sills and other painted surfaces weekly with warm water and a tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) based cleaner (1/2 cup automatic dishwashing liquid to 1 gallon of water).
  • Rinse with clean water and a different mop.              
  • Do not vacuum hard surfaces.  Normal household vacuums serve only to scatter dust further since it does not have a filter capable of containing the fine lead dust.             
  • Wash children’s hands, faces, toys and pacifiers frequently.


Since more lead is absorbed on an empty stomach, make sure your child eats regular nutritious meals.Make sure your child’s diet contains an adequate amount of iron and calcium.

  • Foods high in iron: fortified cereals, cooked beans, spinach and raisins.
  • Foods high in calcium: milk, yogurt, cheese and green vegetables.

Other interventions:

  • Soil: If the soil around your home is likely to be lead-contaminated, plant grass or other ground cover.  If lead-based paint is the source of soil contamination, most lead will be near painted surfaces such as exterior walls.  In such cases, plant bushes next to the house to keep children away.  If your soil is contaminated with lead, provide a sandbox with a solid bottom, top cover, and clean sand for you child to play and dig in. Wash children’s hands when they come inside from playing outdoors. To avoid tracking in lead from soil, clean shoes before entering home.   
  • Renovations and Remodeling: If your house was built prior to 1978, test the paint in your home before doing any renovation or remodeling of painted surfaces.  If lead is detected, take all necessary precautions to ensure that leaded paint is removed in a safe manner.
  • Water: If the lead content in your tap water is higher than the drinking water standard, let the water run for several minutes before using it.  Use only fully-flushed water from the cold water tap for drinking and cooking.
  • Food: Do not store food in open cans, especially imported cans.  Do not store or serve food in pottery that is meant for decorative use only.  Do not store wine or other alcoholic beverages in leaded crystal decanters or other lead crystal containers.
  • Work or hobbies: If you or others in your family work with lead, make sure that any lead-contaminated clothing is handled safely and washed separately from household laundry.  Keep work areas away from any areas where children are present.  Use proper respiratory protection any time you are working with lead.

Q.   How can a lead-based paint problem be remediated?
It is not recommended that the average homeowner attempt to correct their own lead-based paint problem, since it is very easy to make the problem worse instead of better.  Many cases of lead poisoning are as a result of an inexperienced person attempting to abate a lead problem.

Three primary remediation methods:

  • Replacement
    It is often easiest to replace old doors, windows, trim, and other woodwork with new materials.   The item should be wrapped in heavy plastic and kept away from children.
  • Encapsulation
    Wood, vinyl, aluminum, tile, stone, plaster, and special coatings are some of the products used to cover lead paint. Encapsulants can be used on exterior as well as interior areas. First the area is prepared by wet scraping then an encapsulant is applied making sure the seams are sealed.
  • Removal
    Each of the paint-removal methods (sanding, scraping, chemical stripping, sandblasting, heat guns) can produce lead fumes and dust.  It is strongly recommended that you have professionals trained in the removal of lead-based paint do this work.

Other Remediation methods:

  • Sanding and scraping
    Wet methods when sanding or scraping lead paint help reduce lead dust. This method is typically used for a limited area where peeling paint is a problem.  The paint must be thoroughly wetted prior to scrapping. Tools include a wire brush, paint scraper, or other abrasion tool for scraping. Thorough cleanup is necessary and liquid waste must be disposed of properly.
  • Caustic and off-site chemical stripping
    Chemical strippers can be messy and expensive, but it is a way to preserve decorative trim which may be impossible to replace. The wood is taken out of the house to a facility which will strip (de-lead) the article by dipping it into a chemical stripper. This is not recommended for windows or other friction surfaces.
  • Sandblasting
    Sandblasting creates a lot of dust.  When sandblasting is use, the area must be completely enclosed to prevent the spread of lead dust.  Respirators must be worn in the area when work is being conducted.
  • Heat guns
    Heat guns are typically used to soften thick layers of paint prior to scraping. Due to the potential risk of breathing in lead vapors, special care must be taken with the operating temperature of the gun, and approved respirators should be worn at all times.

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Q.   I’m buying/selling/renting my home, what regulations exist regarding any lead which might be present?

To protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil, Congress passed the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Act of 1992, also known as Title X.  Section 1018 of this law directs HUD and EPA to require the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of most housing built before 1978. Sellers and landlords must disclose known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards and provide available reports to buyers or renters. Sellers and landlords must give buyers and renters a pamphlet, developed by EPA, HUD, and CPSC, entitled Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home. 

Homebuyers will get a 10-day period to conduct a lead-based paint inspection or risk assessment at their own expense. The rule gives the two parties flexibility to negotiate key terms of the evaluation.

Sales contracts and leasing agreements must include certain notification and disclosure language.

Sellers, lessors, and real estate agents share responsibility for ensuring compliance. For owners of more than 4 dwelling units the effective date was September 6, 1996;  for owners of 4 or fewer units, the effective date was December 6, 1996. About 9 million renters and 3 million home buyers will be affected each year. This rule does not require any testing or removal of lead-based paint by sellers or landlords and it does not invalidate leasing and sales contracts.

Q.   I’m selling/leasing a house/apartment which might contain lead, what are my responsibilities and liabilities?

Sellers, landlords, and their agents will be responsible for providing information on lead to the buyer or renter before sale or lease.

Any person who knowingly fails to comply with any provision of the regulation shall be subject to civil monetary penalties in accordance with the provisions of 42 U.S.C. 3545 and 24 CFR part 30.

The Secretary is authorized to take such action as may be necessary to enjoin any violation of this subpart in the appropriate Federal district court.

Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of this subpart shall be jointly and severally liable to the purchaser or lessee in an amount equal to 3 times the amount of damages incurred by such individual.

In any civil action brought for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 4852d(b)(3), the appropriate court may award court costs to the party commencing such action, together with reasonable attorney fees and any expert witness fees, if that party prevails.

Failure or refusal to comply with Sec. 745.107 (disclosure requirements for sellers and lessors), Sec. 745.110 (opportunity to conduct an evaluation), Sec. 745.113 (certification and acknowledgment of disclosure), or Sec. 745.115 (agent responsibilities) is a violation of 42 U.S.C. 4852d(b)(5) and of TSCA section 409 (15 U.S.C. 2689).

Violators may be subject to civil and criminal sanctions pursuant to TSCA section 16 (15 U.S.C. 2615) for each violation. For purposes of enforcing this subpart, the penalty for each violation applicable under 15 U.S.C. 2615 shall be not more than $10,000.

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Training and Certification Program in NJ

Q.   I want to conduct lead training in New Jersey, how do I get my agency certified?

To be certified to teach NJ lead courses, agencies must complete an initial "Training Agency Certification Application Package".

Q.   I want to conduct lead abatement/evaluations in New Jersey, how do I get my company and employees certified?

In New Jersey, all companies must be certified by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to conduct any lead abatement or evaluation activities for housing, public buildings, commercial buildings or superstructures.  All of the contractor’s employees, who conduct these lead activities, must be permitted by the Department of Health (DOH).         
The following steps must be taken to acquire all necessary certifications:

  • Training - All workers, supervisors, inspector/risk assessors and project designers must complete a NJDOH approved training course with a NJDOH certified training provider.
  • Qualifications - For more information on qualifications, please refer to the "Lead Licensing and Permit Requirements"
  • Examination - Upon successful completion of this course, workers and project designers may immediately apply to the DOH for their permit; supervisors and inspector/risk assessors must pass a third party state examination and then submit an application to the DOH. 
  • Reciprocity - To be eligible for reciprocity in New Jersey, applicants must provide documentation of a currently valid certification or license from another state that has received authorization from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to administer and enforce a state certification and training program under Title IV of the Toxic Substances Control Act. All applicants for a reciprocal permit shall submit an "Application for Reciprocal Lead Permit (EHS-1)" and submit it to the DOH.
  • Contractor Certification - Abatement and evaluation contractors must contact the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for information pertaining to contractor certification. For information on how to contact the DCA, please contact the DOH.

    The best way to tell how much lead is in your water is to have it tested by a laboratory certified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Quality Assurance/Laboratory Certification.  For more information, contact the DOH.

Q.   How long do I have, once I’ve completed my initial training, to apply for a permit?

You have one year from the time you complete your training to submit a complete application for that discipline to the DOH.

Q.   My permit is due to expire soon, what do I have to do to renew it?

You must contact a NJDOH-approved lead training provider and schedule yourself for a refresher course in the appropriate discipline.  If you are having difficulty scheduling yourself for a course, please contact the DOH.

Q.   I have a NJ permit, is there a grace period after it expires when I can renew it without having to go through the initial training again?

Yes, you have 90 days after the permit expires until you have to begin the certification process from the beginning (initial training course, examination, etc.). You should begin trying to schedule a refresher training course around 3 months before the permit is due to expire.  In most instances the problem with course availability and going beyond the 90 day grace period will be eliminated.

Q.   My permit has expired and the 90 days aren’t up yet, can I work again as soon as I get retrained?

No, you must possess a currently valid NJDOH permit to work.  Therefore, you must submit your application and await the arrival of your new permit before you can begin working again.  To avoid a lapse see the next question.

Q.   My permit expires shortly, I want to make sure that my application gets approved as soon as possible, what can I do to make sure that happens?

Most importantly, get your refresher training scheduled as soon as possible (around 3 months before the permit expires).  When filling out the application, make sure it is complete and that you provide a telephone number where you can be reached between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm.  This is in case there are any questions on your application.  When completing the application, make sure you follow all of the directions carefully.  There are other factors, but the two primary reasons an application is delayed are due to the following:

  • Photograph submitted does not meet the requirements stated in the directions
  • Sections of the application have been left incomplete

Q.   What will happen if I’m caught working without a permit?

In accordance with N.J.A.C. 8:62 you may be subject to a civil administrative penalty of up to $5000 per day for the offense and/or the suspension or revocation of your permit. 

Q.   I lost my permit, what should I do?

You must complete an Application for Replacement of Lead Permit" (EHS-29) and submit it, proof of identification and a certified check or money order for $25 to the address indicated on the application.  A permit will only be replace two times in a two year permit period.

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Additional Information

Q   Where can I get more information on lead?
Please contact the DOH.

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Last Reviewed: 4/12/2017