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What is lead?

Lead is both a naturally occurring metal and a chemical that is highly toxic to both people and wildlife. Lead can cause many different types of health problems. The main concern for children is lead’s effect on brain development. The widespread use of lead in paint and plumbing during much of the 20th century means that everyone has some exposure to lead and harmful effects can occur from relatively common everyday exposures.

The Lead Chemical Action Plan – A game plan for reducing exposure to lead in Washington

In 2009, the Washington departments of Ecology and Health conducted an extensive evaluation of lead exposure and developed recommendations to reduce or eliminate these sources, protecting human health and the environment. This document, called the Lead Chemical Action Plan (CAP), was developed with the valuable help of other agencies and a diverse group of stakeholders. The Lead CAP is a planning tool to guide statewide efforts, not a new law or regulation.

In the CAP, Ecology and Health determined that Washington’s top priority needs to be addressing lead-based paint in older homes. Children are the group most vulnerable group to lead’s toxic effects and lead-based paint is the most frequent cause of childhood lead poisoning.

The Lead Chemical Action Plan also made a number of other recommendations to reduce common exposures to lead (see chart below).

On May 2, 2016, Governor Jay Inslee issued a directive to the Department of Health and partner agencies to take steps to reduce lead exposure.

Recommendations and actions from the Lead Chemical Action Plan:

Education and outreach Department of Health website has information on exposure to lead and lead in drinking water. The Child Profile includes lead information in health promotion mailings to all new parents at nine months, 12 months, and 2 years old.
Health includes lead with other contaminants in its Healthy Homes brochure.
Reduce exposures from old paint and plumbing in homes, schools, and childcares Gov. Inslee directed state agencies to determine feasibility of a Lead Rental Inspection and Registry Program for pre-1978 housing.
Gov. Inslee directed state agencies to determine feasibility of evaluating childcares for sources of lead exposure.
In Washington state, the Department of Commerce oversees the federal Renovation, Repair, Painting Program and works on lead hazard control programs.
Find and help children with elevated blood lead levels Department of Health lowered the state definition of elevated blood lead level (WAC 126-101-010) to be consistent with federal guidelines.
Department of Health developed new guidelines in 2015 for health care providers for testing children at higher risk for lead exposure and a map of areas with higher risks.
Gov. Inslee directed Department of Health to determine funding to transition to a more efficient system for the Childhood Blood Lead Registry.
Ecology has been helping Department of Health and local health departments to investigate causes of elevated blood lead with existing resources. Gov. Inslee directed Health to assess funding needs.
Reduce lead in current products and processes Ecology works with state businesses to identify and reduce uses of lead in manufacturing and products.
In 2009, Washington state banned the installation of lead wheel weights.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife banned the use of lead fishing tackle in 13 loon nesting lakes.
The 2008 Children's Safe Products Act set a limit for lead in children's products. This was substantially preempted by federal legislation. Ecology also tests products for lead and other chemicals.
Reduce occupational exposure Washington Department of Labor and Industries is developing recommendations to update the current occupational lead standards and other future strategies to reduce worker lead exposures in the state.