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The University of Kentucky is committed to providing work, study, research, and residential environments that are free from recognized hazards. Therefore, a rigorous program of monitoring is in place to address hazards created by the use or presence of lead on-campus.

There are two primary categories of lead use and presence on-campus. The first is lead in building materials, such as paint, water pipes, and plumbing fixtures. The second is the use of lead-containing products such as lead solder, ammunition, radionuclide shielding, and laboratory or studio use of organic or inorganic lead compounds.

Lead Based Paint

Lead-based paint is defined as any paint which contains lead in excess of one milligram per square centimeter, or >0.5% by weight.  Lead-based paint can be present in campus buildings that were built before 1978, when the Consumer Products Safety Commission banned the use of all paints in residential and public buildings that contain greater than 0.06% lead. 

The UK Environmental Management Department (EMD) performs extensive testing and inspection of buildings in order to “map” the presence and condition of lead-based paint.  Special attention is given to facilities that are, or have the potential to be, occupied by children <6 years of age, who are particularly susceptible to neurological insult from ingestion of lead.

EMD also reviews and approves all construction, demolition, and renovation projects that could potentially disturb any paint that contains lead. For information on the Lead-Based Paint Management Program, click here.

Lead In Water

Potential sources of lead in campus drinking water are the following: lead pipe, lead solder and leaded brass fittings. Lead pipe and lead solder were banned in 1986 by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act has reduced the acceptable levels of lead in “lead-free” pipes, fittings, and fixtures from 8.0% to 0.25% as of January 4, 2014.

The EPA Lead and Copper Rule also requires public water utilities such as Kentucky American Water Company (KAW, the water utility for Lexington-Fayette) to include corrosion control in their water treatment protocol sufficient to prevent lead leaching from pipes, solder or fittings.  The rule requires KAW to test a representative sample of buildings periodically, to prove they are in compliance.  KAW has passed all Lead and Copper Rule tests.

While there could be older pipes or fixtures within specific campus buildings that contain lead, periodic flushing of water systems plus corrosion control treatment techniques mean that lead levels above the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion are highly unlikely.

For additional information on lead in drinking water, please refer to KAW's "Frequently Asked Questions on Water Quality". KAW or the UK Environmental Management Department can perform drinking water testing if a justifiable request is received.

UK Health & Safety (UKHS) is responsible for the safety of all other uses of lead on-campus.  UKHS performs periodic air and surface wipe sampling during these processes, and ensures that affected persons are trained on the safe use of these products.  Examples:

  • Exposure to lead fumes or surface lead contamination from discharge of ammunition during practice/training (UK Rifle personnel, UKPD);
  • Use of lead solder in electronics assembly and repair;
  • Use and manipulation of lead bricks and shields in areas where radionuclides are used;
  • Use of elemental lead and inorganic or organic lead compounds in laboratories or the arts.

Other Uses of Lead

For personnel who could be exposed to airborne lead, UKHS monitors all tasks to quantify exposures and ensure they are below the current OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs).  If exposures above any PEL are documented, UKHS along with the affected department and University Health Services will take all necessary steps to reduce exposures:

  • engineering controls
  • product substitution
  • work practice controls
  • personal protective equipment
  • medical removal protection if necessitated by elevated blood lead levels

The current OSHA PELs for lead and lead compounds are the following:

  • 50 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) for elemental lead, inorganic lead compounds, and organic lead soaps;
  • 75 ug/m3 as an 8-hour TWA for tetraethyl and tetramethyl lead.

UKHS also performs surface wipe sampling for lead, using NIOSH Method 9102.  This helps ensure that hygiene requirements are being met in laboratories, ranges, studios, and other areas where surface lead contamination is possible.

Contact Robert Thomas at UKHS if you have any questions about laboratory or workplace exposures to lead and lead compounds.