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Print this guide, watch educational videos, and download helpful resources for tenants and landlords. Learn more about the dangers of lead from trusted national organizations.

Dangers of lead

Risk to children

Children younger than 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Most children who have lead poisoning get it from lead dust in homes built before 1978. When old paint cracks and peels, it creates lead dust. Lead dust from chipping paint can settle on the ground and other surfaces and get on children’s hands.

The City of Philadelphia encourages all children under age 6 to have their lead levels tested at age 1 and again at age 2. You cannot tell if your child has an elevated lead level from their behavior. The only way to know is to get them tested.

Even small amounts of lead can severely affect a child’s mental and physical development. Some of the effects of lead poisoning may never go away. At very high levels, lead exposure can be fatal.

Lead exposure can cause:

  • Speech and language problems.
  • Developmental delays.
  • Decreased bone and muscle growth.
  • Poor muscle coordination.
  • Damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing.
  • Seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels).

If a child has elevated lead levels

If your child has a lead level of 10 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or higher, a member of the Lead and Healthy Homes Program will contact you. They will come to your home to help you determine the source of the lead and what you can do to keep your family safe. This service is free.

If you are a homeowner and can’t afford the necessary repairs, the City may help you get them for free. If you rent your home, the City will work with your landlord to make the property safe for your family.

Risk in pregnancy

Lead can pass from a pregnant person to an unborn baby. If you have too much lead in your body, it can:

  • Put you at risk for miscarriage.
  • Cause your baby to be born too early or too small.
  • Hurt your baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
  • Cause your child to have learning or behavioral problems.

If you are pregnant, you should:

  • Avoid any home repairs that could put you in contact with lead paint dust.
  • Avoid working in an environment where you may be exposed to lead dust.

Risk to adults

Lead is dangerous to everyone, but it is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults.

For adults, lead can cause serious health damage at levels of 40 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or higher. This is four times higher than the level of concern for children (10 ug/dL).

Working with lead

Adult exposure usually occurs when someone works in an environment where they are exposed to lead.

People can also be exposed to lead through the use of lead-contaminated products.

If someone in your household works with lead dust, have them change clothes when they get home. Keep work shoes outside and wash all work clothes separately from the rest of the family laundry.

If you are concerned about adult exposure to lead, talk with your doctor.

Where is lead?

Lead in and around your home

Most children who have lead poisoning get it from lead dust in homes built before 1978. When old lead paint cracks and peels, it creates lead dust. Lead dust from chipping paint can settle on the ground and other surfaces and get on children’s hands.

Lead can get into drinking water if you have a lead service line, or plumbing fixtures that have lead.

You can also be exposed to lead from soil that is contaminated by lead from exterior paint. Lead is sometimes found in the following products when they are made outside the United States:

  • Pottery
  • Children’s toys
  • Jewelry
  • Food
  • Health remedies and cosmetics such as kohl, kajal, and surma

Learn more about sources of lead.

Philadelphia’s Lead and Healthy Homes Program works to ensure that Philadelphians have safe and healthy homes, free from lead and other hazards. Landlords and tenants also play an important role in ensuring that rental homes are healthy and safe.

Lead in water

The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) tests water in Philadelphia to be sure that it is safe to drink. Water in Philadelphia meets or exceeds the standards needed to be safe for drinking and bathing. None of the City-owned water mains are made of lead.

There are two major ways lead can get into water in Philadelphia:

  • When water sits in plumbing made from lead
  • When pieces of lead plumbing or solder break off inside drinking water pipes

In Philadelphia, water is treated to make it safer for homes that have lead plumbing, but there is always a risk of lead getting into water when you have lead in your plumbing.

Watch a video about how lead gets into water.

Philadelphia water quality

The drinking water in Philadelphia meets or exceeds state and federal water quality standards. For yearly water quality data, visit the Philadelphia Water Department’s drinking water quality page.

Lead and drinking water quality

Philadelphia’s drinking water sources, the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, do not contain detectable levels of lead. When lead is found in drinking water, the lead is coming from home plumbing.

Because lead can get into water from the pipes in the homes in Philadelphia, the PWD treats the water with an anti-corrosion treatment that helps prevent lead from leaching out of household pipes when it sits in pipes for six or more hours. This treatment prevents Philadelphia from experiencing a lead crisis that has been seen in other American cities.

Monitoring for lead in Philadelphia’s drinking water

Philadelphia’s water supply is carefully monitored to make sure that residents are protected from lead that could be found in drinking water. The PWD is required by law to test drinking water from homes with lead service lines every three years to ensure that corrosion control treatment is working.

Since June 1991, the PWD has tested for lead levels in accordance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule.

Lead pipes in your home

It is estimated that approximately 20,000 Philadelphia homes may have a water service line (a pipe running from the water main to the home) that is made of lead. Older brass fixtures, valves, and solder (where pipes are joined) may also contain lead. Replacing an older brass faucet or valve may be a simple way to reduce the lead.

To find out if your water service line is made of lead, follow these steps or use the diagram (PDF):

  1. Find the water meter in your basement. Look at the pipe that comes through the outside wall of your home and connects to your meter.
  2. If the pipe is painted, use sandpaper to expose the metal. Carefully scratch the metal pipe (like you would a lottery ticket) with a key or a coin. Do not use a knife or other sharp tool. Take care not to make a hole in the pipe. If the scratch turns a shiny silver color, it could be lead or steel.
  3. To determine if the pipe is lead or steel, get a strong refrigerator magnet. Place the magnet on the pipe. If a magnet sticks, it is a steel pipe.
  4. You can also buy a lead test kit at a hardware or home improvement store. These kits are used to test what the pipe is made from—not the water inside. Look for an EPA-recognized kit.

If you don’t have a lead service line but do have lead in your water, a licensed and registered plumber can inspect your pipes and other plumbing for lead.

Living with lead pipes

If you have lead pipes, one way to keep your family safe is to flush or clean your pipes. Anytime you have not used the water in your home for six hours or more you should flush your pipes.

To do this, turn on the cold water faucet at the sinks where you get water for drinking and cooking and let the water run for three minutes.

Other household water uses like washing clothes, showering, or flushing the toilet are also good ways to bring fresh water from our system into your home plumbing. Flushing your pipes removes lead that may have gotten into water while it was sitting in the pipes, unused.

It is also important to clean faucet aerators and screens to remove any debris from them.

Find videos and printable flushing instructions to learn more about flushing your pipes.

If pipes have been disturbed

In some situations, customers with lead pipes should do a more thorough flush of their pipes (PDF).

  • After street work, such as resurfacing or heavy construction that can dislodge lead particles.
  • After your lead line is replaced, which may cause lead particles to break off into plumbing.

Replace lead pipes

In Philadelphia, there are two programs to help homeowners replace water service lines that are made of lead.

  • The Homeowners Emergency Loan Program (HELP) is a zero-interest loan for homeowners who want to replace a water service line made of lead.
  • If the City is replacing the water main on your street and your water service line is made of lead, the City will replace your water service line for free. You must give permission for the City to do this. PWD will notify residents by letter several months before work is scheduled to begin.

You may also contact any licensed plumber to give an estimate for replacing lead service lines and other sources of lead in plumbing.

Finding and replacing lead plumbing can be expensive, but removing lead permanently is the safest option.

 

Lead in soil

Lead can get into soil from flaking paint on the outside of houses, from leaded gasoline from cars, and from old industrial operations. Lead in soil can be tracked into homes on shoes, clothing, and tools.

Many older neighborhoods in Philadelphia may have lead in the soil in their yards. You can have your soil tested for lead to see if it is safe.

If you decide that you want to get your soil tested for lead, be sure to use a reputable testing laboratory.

The results will have a number in parts per million (ppm).

Lead level (parts per million) Level of lead contamination
Less than 150 None to very low. Most soil has low levels of lead in it (10—50 ppm).
From 150 to 400 Low. Precautions like washing hands and putting gardens far from streets and old buildings should be enough.
From 400 to 1,000 Medium. Treatment is required for play areas used by children under six years old. Take additional precautions before gardening.
Greater than 1,000 High. Do not garden in this soil and do not allow children to come into contact with it.

To avoid getting exposed to lead from soil you can:

  • Keep soil covered using concrete, grass (where it grows well), and landscape fabric plus mulch (where grass does not grow well).
  • Put your garden or children’s play area as far away as possible from busy streets or highways and older buildings, and away from where storm gutters empty next to your house.
  • Wipe your feet on heavy duty door mats inside and outside. Leave your shoes at the door.
  • Wash your child’s hands after they play outside.

If you want to grow food in your backyard, you can:

  • Use raised planting beds.
  • Cover the garden area with landscape fabric and then with fresh soil and compost.
  • Be sure to wash and peel fruits and vegetables that you grow.

Is there lead in your soil (and what you can do about it) fact sheet

Lead from construction

Construction and demolition projects around your home may create lead dust. You can help to reduce your risk of exposure.

  • Keep windows closed during peak work times.
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window sills.
  • Avoid tracking soil into your house. Put doormats outside and inside all entryways. Remove your shoes before coming inside.
  • Regularly wash your children’s hands and toys.

If you are renovating your home:

The EPA has rules for anyone who performs renovation in a house, apartment, school or facility built before 1978. All contractors or workers must be trained and certified in EPA Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP). Information about EPA-approved training providers and certified renovators is available online at EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program website.

You can find out more about lead and construction from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Rules for construction and demolition projects

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia’s Air Pollution Control Board created requirements designed to limit the public’s exposure to dust. Property owners and operators of construction or demolition projects must:

  • Notify people who live near pending construction or demolition projects at least 10 days before starting work.
  • Use basic dust control techniques to reduce and limit the creation of lead dust.

Find out more about lead poisoning

Prevention

Keep your home safe from lead

Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems for children. Here are some ways you can keep your home safe from lead poisoning:

  • Sweep and vacuum the floors daily.
  • Keep children away from peeling paint and home repairs that disturb paint.
  • Wash your children’s hands, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals before they eat or nap.
  • Wipe down hard surfaces like floors, play areas, and windowsills with a wet cloth or paper towel at least once a week.
  • Use contact paper or duct tape to cover chipping or peeling paint.
  • Feed your family foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C. These foods may help keep lead out of the body.
    • Calcium is in milk, yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
    • Iron is in lean red meats, beans, peanut butter, and cereals.
    • Vitamin C is in oranges, green and red peppers, and juice.
  • Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables to remove chemicals or pesticides that may contain lead.
  • Never cook with hot water. Always start with cold water to flush any lead deposits out of the pipes.
  • If you work with paint, machines, building construction, dirt, or soil, leave work clothes at work or change clothes before you touch your child.
  • Do not use health remedies and cosmetics (such as kohl, kajal, and surma) from other countries. Some of these products have been found to contain high levels of lead.
  • Do not use imported glazed clay pots and dishes to cook, serve, or store food. Do not use pottery that is chipped or cracked.
  • Use caution with foods, children’s toys, and jewelry made in other countries. These items may contain lead.

Living with lead pipes

If you have lead pipes, one way to keep your family safe is to flush or clean your pipes. Anytime you have not used the water in your home for six hours or more you should flush your pipes.

To do this, turn on the cold water faucet at the sinks where you get water for drinking and cooking and let the water run for 3 minutes. Other household water uses like washing clothes, showering, or flushing the toilet are also good ways to bring fresh water from our system into your home plumbing.

Watch a video about daily cleaning tips for lead pipes.

Talk to your landlord

It is important to find and fix lead in your home as soon as possible. If you rent your home, talk to your landlord about any peeling or chipping paint. They should repair it quickly in a lead-safe manner. Home repairs like sanding or scraping paint can create dangerous dust. Make sure all repairs are done safely without stirring up lead dust.

If your landlord doesn’t repair the issue, you can report it to the Department of Licenses and Inspections by calling 311.

Get a lead-safe or lead-free certificate from your landlord.

Landlord responsibilities

Repair lead hazards

According to the Philadelphia Health Code, a building can’t have exposed lead paint if it presents a hazard to children under the age of 6.

Note: Beginning October 1, 2020, landlords will be required to test and certify rental properties as lead-safe or lead-free, regardless of a child’s age, in order to:

  • Execute a new or renewed lease or
  • Receive or renew a rental license.

Learn more about this regulation.

If the Department of Public Health tests a home for lead paint and finds that there is a hazard, the landlord should hire an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified firm to fix it. These companies employ certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers and follow lead-safe work practices. If a landlord or homeowner does not repair the lead hazards in their property, they may be referred to Lead Court.

Learn more about the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP Rule).

Provide a lead-safe or lead-free certificate to your tenant

Under the Philadelphia Lead Paint Disclosure and Certification Law, if a building was built before 1978 and will be occupied by a child 6 years or younger, property owners must provide tenants with certification that it is lead-safe or lead-free. The landlord should have the tenant sign the certification.

Beginning October 1, 2020, landlords will be required to test and certify rental properties as lead-safe or lead-free, regardless of a child’s age, in order to:

  • Execute a new or renewed lease or
  • Receive or renew a rental license.

Learn more about this regulation.

Learn about the Lead Paint Disclosure and Certification Law, and how to get lead-safe certification in Resources for Landlords and Resources for Tenants.

Making the city lead-safe

Lead testing

In Philadelphia today, more than 90 percent of children under 6 are tested for lead poisoning, with many tested more than once. The percentage of children with blood levels above 10 ug/dL fell from 2.2 percent of those tested (843 children) in 2007 to 0.8 percent (318 children) in 2017. The percentage of children with blood lead levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL fell from 9.4 percent of those tested (3,536 children) in 2007 to 3.4 percent (1,305 children) in 2017.

Read the latest report on lead testing in Philadelphia.

Lead Advisory Group

In 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney released the final report and recommendations from the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group. This report supplements the commitments the City made to reduce lead poisoning in its “Lead-Free Kids: Preventing Lead Poisoning in Philadelphia” report, released in December 2016.

Read the Lead Advisory Group’s findings.

Laws and regulations

The City of Philadelphia has laws and regulations to protect residents from unsafe living conditions. These laws and regulations ensure that housing is safe and that landlords are accountable.

Legislation

  • In 2012, the Philadelphia City Code was amended to include the Philadelphia Lead Paint Disclosure and Certification Law.  Currently, the law requires owners of properties built before 1978 and rented to children 6 years or younger to provide the tenant with certification prepared by a dust wipe technician stating that the property is either lead safe or lead-free. Beginning October 1, 2020, landlords will be required to test and certify rental properties as lead-safe or lead-free, regardless of a child’s age, in order to:
    • Execute a new or renewed lease or
    • Receive or renew a rental license.

Learn more about this regulation.

  • The School District of Philadelphia conducts water testing at every school on a five year cycle. This helps to guarantee that students have access to safe drinking water at school. All water testing results are posted online for public view.
  • The School District of Philadelphia must keep its buildings safe from environmental hazards, including asbestos, mold, and lead paint.
  • All schools and licensed day care facilities caring for 13 or more children are required to test all potable water outlets for lead and submit results to the Department of Public Health.
  • The City of Philadelphia has other lead paint laws and regulations to protect residents from unsafe living conditions.  The City provides resources to landlords to help them keep their properties lead free or lead safe.

EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule

Philadelphia successfully passed the most recent round of water quality testing for lead at customers’ taps. In addition to regular tests done every year at home taps upon request, we also comply with federal drinking water regulations, defined in the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule. This rule requires us to sample water from taps in homes that have lead service lines every three years. 90 percent of the sampled homes must have lead levels under the action level of 15 ppb.

Requirements for construction and demolition

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia’s Air Pollution Control Board created requirements designed to limit the public’s exposure to dust. Property owners and operators of construction or demolition projects must:

  • Notify people who live near pending construction or demolition projects at least 10 days before starting work.
  • Use basic dust control techniques to reduce and limit the creation of lead dust.

Lead Court

If a landlord or homeowner does not repair the lead hazards in their property, they may be referred to Lead Court.

When a child’s blood lead level tests at 10 or above, the child’s health care provider notifies the Lead and Healthy Homes Program (LHHP). LHHP will visit the property where the child lives and conduct a comprehensive inspection for lead hazards. The inspection report details all of the surfaces in the property that must be repaired.

LHHP will give the landlord or homeowner an order to remediate the lead hazards within 30 days. At this time, the property owner may be eligible for funding to help remove the lead hazards. LHHP will work with the property owner to see if they qualify for funding and/or help to coordinate the lead repair.

LHHP will re-inspect the property after 30 days. If the property owner has failed to make or schedule the repairs, or failed to follow proper remediation guidelines, LHHP will inform the City’s Law Department. The Law Department will then contact the property owner with a date to appear in Lead Court.

Before the court date, the property owner has the opportunity to make or schedule the repairs. If the work is completed or in progress by the court date, the Law Department can either discontinue the court referral or issue a continuance. If the property owner does not make the repairs, the judge may impose fines ranging from $2,000 to $250,000.

Private: [Duplicated] Making the city lead-safe

Lead testing

In Philadelphia today, more than 90 percent of children under 6 are tested for lead poisoning, with many tested more than once. The percentage of children with blood levels above 10 ug/dL fell from 2.2 percent of those tested (843 children) in 2007 to 0.8 percent (318 children) in 2017. The percentage of children with blood lead levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL fell from 9.4 percent of those tested (3,536 children) in 2007 to 3.4 percent (1,305 children) in 2017.

Read the latest report on lead testing in Philadelphia.

Lead Advisory Group

In 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney released the final report and recommendations from the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group. This report supplements the commitments the City made to reduce lead poisoning in its “Lead-Free Kids: Preventing Lead Poisoning in Philadelphia” report, released in December 2016.

Read the Lead Advisory Group’s findings.

Laws and regulations

The City of Philadelphia has laws and regulations to protect residents from unsafe living conditions. These laws and regulations ensure that housing is safe and that landlords are accountable.

Legislation

  • In 2012, the Philadelphia City Code was amended to include the Philadelphia Lead Paint Disclosure and Certification Law.  Currently, the law requires owners of properties built before 1978 and rented to children 6 years or younger to provide the tenant with certification prepared by a dust wipe technician stating that the property is either lead safe or lead-free. Beginning October 1, 2020, landlords will be required to test and certify rental properties as lead-safe or lead-free, regardless of a child’s age, in order to:
    • Execute a new or renewed lease or
    • Receive or renew a rental license.

Learn more about this regulation.

  • The School District of Philadelphia conducts water testing at every school on a five year cycle. This helps to guarantee that students have access to safe drinking water at school. All water testing results are posted online for public view.
  • The School District of Philadelphia must keep its buildings safe from environmental hazards, including asbestos, mold, and lead paint.
  • All licensed Philadelphia day care facilities caring for 13 or more children are required to test all potable water outlets for lead and submit results to the Department of Public Health.

Requirements for construction and demolition

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia’s Air Pollution Control Board created requirements designed to limit the public’s exposure to dust. Property owners and operators of construction or demolition projects must:

  • Notify people who live near pending construction or demolition projects at least 10 days before starting work.
  • Use basic dust control techniques to reduce and limit the creation of lead dust.

Lead Court

If a landlord or homeowner does not repair the lead hazards in their property, they may be referred to Lead Court.

When a child’s blood lead level tests at 10 or above, the child’s health care provider notifies the Lead and Healthy Homes Program (LHHP). LHHP will visit the property where the child lives and conduct a comprehensive inspection for lead hazards. The inspection report details all of the surfaces in the property that must be repaired.

LHHP will give the landlord or homeowner an order to remediate the lead hazards within 30 days. At this time, the property owner may be eligible for funding to help remove the lead hazards. LHHP will work with the property owner to see if they qualify for funding and/or help to coordinate the lead repair.

LHHP will re-inspect the property after 30 days. If the property owner has failed to make or schedule the repairs, or failed to follow proper remediation guidelines, LHHP will inform the City’s Law Department. The Law Department will then contact the property owner with a date to appear in Lead Court.

Before the court date, the property owner has the opportunity to make or schedule the repairs. If the work is completed or in progress by the court date, the Law Department can either discontinue the court referral or issue a continuance. If the property owner does not make the repairs, the judge may impose fines ranging from $2,000 to $250,000.

Resources

Lead in pipes

Lead at home

Learn more about lead poisoning

Regulations


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