The New Challenge For Lead-Free Schools

Bill Walsh | April 04, 2018 | Materials

To mark National Public Health Week (April 2-6, 2018) national experts in education, childcare, and children's health today issued a joint call to get the lead out of schools and childcare facilities. Their report, Eliminating Lead Risks in Schools and Child Care Facilities, is the first to set strategic priorities for reducing lead exposure to the more than 66 million children enrolled in schools and child care programs.

Working with these groups the Healthy Building Network identified a significant regulatory gap that allows numerous lead containing building products to be used in learning environments. While lead-based paints have long been illegal[1] under federal law, the law has not caught up with changes in the building industry that incentivize the use of recycled content that can contain lead. As a result, there are no legal restrictions on lead content in many common building products.

HBN researchers have documented a growing roster of building products that may contain recycled content contaminated by lead and other toxic substances[2]. The following building products should be avoided unless their contents are fully disclosed and evaluated to be lead-free:  

  • Crumb rubber playground mulch, which is literally ground up tires that are visible to the naked eye.

  • Artificial or synthetic turf in which the ground tires are pulverized into granules resembling black soil.

  • Tire-derived recycled rubber flooring, often used on playgrounds and in gymnasiums, in which granulated tires are pressed into resilient flooring tiles.

  • Recycled vinyl flooring that has been shown to contain lead and other heavy metals.[3]

  • Carpet and ceiling tiles that contain fly ash “recycled” from coal-fired power plants can also contain lead and other heavy metals in the ash.


In their report released today, the groups convened by the Children’s Environmental Health NetworkHealthy Schools Network and the Learning Disabilities Association of America identified seven strategic priority areas, including seeking “private sector commitments to lead free solutions” in the absence of strong regulatory requirements. “Even low levels of lead are linked to learning disabilities, attention problems and IQ deficits,” according to Maureen Swanson, Healthy Children Project Director, Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Getting lead out of schools and child care facilities is doable and will protect children across the country where they spend hours each day learning, playing and growing.”

Keeping the next generation of lead out of our child care and school buildings is doable, but it is made difficult by the lack of transparency and disclosure of building product content. Those specifying and installing products should demand Health Product Declarations (HPD) for all building products — an HPD is an industry supported standard format for reporting product content and associated health hazards. Every building product manufacturer, distributor, and retailer should provide them. In our Optimizing Recycling series, HBN has identified specific steps that the recycling industry and building product manufacturers can take in order to both reduce lead hazards and create higher value supply chains. In the meantime, HBN’s HomeFree website provides useful guidance to parents and school administrators committed to keeping schools and day care centers lead-free.




[2]  The information and recommendations in this article are explored in depth in the Optimizing Recycling reports published by HBN and available for free at

[3]  HBN research indicates that two brands, Armstrong and Tarkett, have reliable supply chain screening programs for lead.