Parents often assume that schools are safe. They imagine there must be a set of Federal regulations in place that ensure our children are not exposed to potent environmental toxins in their schools and daycares – where they spend most of their time outside of the home.

I discovered the hard way that this is not the case.

For the first two years after my boys were lead poisoned, I closely monitored their Blood Lead Levels (BLL).  It was important to observe their BLLs going down and this also helped me to catch incidents where they increased. One of these incidents was with my older son…

We had decided to send the boys to a private school. The tuition was expensive, but we felt that after everything they had been through, a nurturing academic environment was essential.

When we first started there, I noticed the old building’s many large windows had all been replaced – a great sign!  It wasn’t until A.J. began kindergarten that I noticed the windows’ original exterior trim was covered with old, peeling paint!

It was then—about two months into the school year—that I had Cole retested. His BLL had gone up 60% since the level we had taken at the beginning of the school year.! We now lived in a lead-safe home and the only potential source of lead exposure we could find was the school.

I rallied together a group of parents and we hired a hazard assessor to do some preliminary testing and produce a report to take to the school board with recommendations for further testing and remediation. I knew there were some hazards—I could see them—but I was not prepared for the test results: the floor at the front entry of the school tested positive with a level of more than 7,000 micrograms of lead dust per square foot  [the level of lead dust on the floor that is considered hazardous for children is 40 micrograms of lead per square foot]! I was horrified. How had I not seen this hazard sooner?  How could an expensive private school have hazards of this magnitude?

It was then that I trained my eyes to really look for potential hazards—both obvious and more subtle — in public and private children’s spaces everywhere I went. A public daycare center two blocks from my house tested positive with window sill levels of 23,000 micrograms of lead per square foot!

As a result of these experiences, I contacted my State representative and drafted a law to protect children in Oregon from lead hazards in school.  This is HB 2715 and is currently before the legislature.

I share this with you because it illustrates something so profound—the motto of Healthy Child Healthy World actually—“No one can do everything, Everyone can do something.”

What you can do:

  1. Find out if there is a law in your state protecting children from lead hazards in school. Some states (like MA) have progressive, aggressive legislation protecting children from environmental hazards in schools.
  2. If there isn’t a law, contact me – perhaps I can help you write one for your state. Parents unite—we can do this together!
  3. Look around your children’s schools and daycares. Is there any peeling paint?  Have it tested (if necessary, send me a note and I will send you a free 3M LeadCheck®  test kit to test any suspected lead paint on your school or daycare.)
  4. Keep your eyes open for other sources of lead in your children’s school – particularly recycled older building materials (doors and windows) earmarked for use in “art projects” or “building projects” in wood shop or other areas of the school (as “retro objects d’art”).
  5. Lead in tile is not regulated so also be wary of mosaic projects especially when small children are involved.
  6. Find out about lead in water fountains—that can be removed with properly specified (and regularly maintained) water filters. Is anyone in your school system is managing the oversight of changing these filters?
  7. Educate your school and your teachers about the concern. Encourage alternatives for art projects. Sharing information makes all the difference in the world. Check out my personal advocacy website for more links and information


Tamara Rubin

Winner of the Inaugural National Healthy Homes Hero award presented in June 2011 by a consortium of Federal agencies (including the EPA, CDC, HUD, USDA and U.S. Department of Energy), Tamara Rubin has been a childhood lead poisoning prevention advocate since her children were poisoned in 2005.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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