GAO Report: School Districts’ Efforts to Address Lead-Based Paint

The most common source of lead exposure for children comes from paint in buildings built before 1978—the year the government banned the sale of lead-based paint. In schools, lead dust can come from disturbing lead paint during renovations, deteriorating lead paint, and lead-contaminated soil.

We surveyed schools across the U.S. on how they deal with lead paint. Among other things, we found

  • About a third of public school students, about 15.3 million, were in school districts that inspected for lead paint
  • About half the districts that inspected found lead paint. All that found it reported plans or actions to reduce or eliminate it

Recent revelations of lead exposure—in Flint, Michigan through drinking water and in East Chicago, Indiana through contaminated soil and lead dust from past industrial activities—have renewed public awareness about the dangers lead exposure poses to public health, including the health of school-age children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even though the extent to which children are exposed to lead has been substantially reduced since the 1970s, it is unclear how many school buildings still have lead-based paint.

GAO was asked to study inspection and remediation efforts that protect children from exposure to lead in schools. In July 2018, GAO reported on lead in school drinking water. In this report, GAO describes the extent to which school districts reported inspecting for, and remediating, lead-based paint in schools.