City Offers Homeowners Information on Testing for Lead in Paint and Water

October 5, 2023

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 22 through 29, 2023 and the City of Portsmouth Health and Water Departments are taking the opportunity to raise awareness of the issue by providing the following information on the City website and at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, October 21, 2023.

Lead in Paint: Older housing stock is at risk of contamination by lead paint which was not banned until 1978. Portsmouth has some of the oldest housing stock in the state and testing has demonstrated the correlation between pre-1978 housing stock and children found to have lead poisoning levels in their blood.

Since April 9, 2018, New Hampshire’s Universal Testing Law has required children to be tested for lead levels at age one and again at age two. These screening tests are usually a routine part of a child’s annual well child check visits to the doctor. The NH Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS) is concerned about lead poisoning in young children because many homes in New Hampshire still contain lead paint and their most-recent Lead Exposure in New Hampshire Data Brief reported that between 2019 to 2021, there was a 25 percent decrease in the rate of children who were lead-tested at the required ages of one and two, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and because there was a national recall of point-of-care (doctors’ office) testing materials.

The NHDHHS, Division of Public Health Services lead poisoning prevention webpage notes, “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s ability to think, learn and behave. While the effects of lead poisoning may be permanent, if caught early, there are things parents can do to prevent further exposure and reduce damage to their health and development. Parents should check with their child’s pediatrician’s office if they are unsure if their child has had the required tests and get them tested as soon as possible, if they have not been tested.”

The City of Portsmouth Inspection Department is also working on steps to reinforce its program of inspecting rental properties for the presence of lead paint hazards. The City’s Health Department is working with NHDHHS to pinpoint areas in Portsmouth where there are concentrations of older housing stock and children whose tests have shown high levels of lead in their blood. In homes, lead paint hazards are the most significant risk to children and pregnant women followed by lead in drinking water and consumer products that contain lead.

The City of Portsmouth Health Officer Kim McNamara commented, “The City of Portsmouth Health Department has worked for some time to alert vulnerable populations to the risks of lead paint. We know that small children ingest lead through lead paint dust and paint chips (because they are sweet); yet exposure to lead in an amount as small as a grain of sugar can cause irreparable damage to a child’s developing brain and cause significant developmental, social, and behavioral issues down the road. We join NHDHHS in calling attention to this risk and continue to work with homeowners, landlords and our Inspection Department to get rid of lead paint hazards, dust, and debris, safely.”

Lead in Water: While the City Water System has no lead in its source waters and tests the water system regularly, as required, to confirm there are no detectable levels of lead in the drinking water in your home, that might come from pipes and fixtures, we recommend a routine water test for lead.

In cooperation with the City’s Safe Water Advisory Group, the City’s Water Division is making free lead water testing kits available to Portsmouth water customers, while supplies last. To request a kit, residents should contact Mason Caceres, Water Quality Specialist II, at (603) 312-3804 or for the one-time code that allows them to retrieve the kit. Full instructions on use are included and the results will be reported to the homeowner. Go to informational flyer.

The City’s Director of Water Resources, Brian Goetz, commented “There may be some housing stock with older pipes, faucets or other fixtures that may contain lead that we are not aware of. Therefore, we sought approval from City Council in this year’s budget to offer this free testing opportunity for our Water System customers who haven’t had their home plumbing tested for the presence of lead.”