Sixty-nine residential college rooms were partially repainted due to hazardous levels of exposed lead over spring break. The only residential college confirmed to contain rooms that received new paint was Timothy Dwight.
Residents of the college were not informed about the repainting.
A student in Timothy Dwight College, Hillary Ryan ’15, contacted the TD operations manager after suspecting the paint that had been decaying on his windowsill for “a couple of months” might contain lead. Following an inspection by Yale’s Environmental Health Services on Feb. 27, the windowsill was found to have 15 times the lead content required for paint to be considered dangerous, a level determined by Yale EHS. Other areas of Ryan’s room, including the walls and window paneling, also contained more lead than is safe. Ryan’s room was repainted over spring break, along with 68 other undergraduate residential spaces, due to similar findings of hazardous levels of lead paint. TD residents received no notice that there had been unsafe levels of lead, or that rooms had been repainted.
“I didn’t know any rooms had been repainted,” Claire Mufson ’16, who is in TD, said upon being told about it by the News. “If there is lead in the walls, people should know about it.”
Lead paint itself is not dangerous. Buildings which were painted with lead-based paint prior to 1978 are considered safe if they are coated over with paint that does not contain lead. But when that exterior paint decays, and the lead paint underneath begins to decay as well, paint dust particles become airborne. Inhaling those particles puts people at significant risk of impeded neurological development, a risk that is even greater among women. Lead deposits are stored in the bone marrow, which produces red blood cells. In turn, lead deposits end up in the bloodstream, exposing pregnant women and their fetuses to unsafe levels of lead, even if the woman was only exposed to a small amount of lead.
Twelve TD students interviewed said they had no idea there was a lead problem in their college and were unaware of whether their rooms had been repainted.
Though University spokesman Tom Conroy said he did not know whether the University informed students that such paintwork had occurred, he noted that he was “not sure what the need would be” to inform them.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires leasing agents to tell their renters if the building they live might have lead beneath the paintwork, but that regulation only applies to “targeted housing” and child-occupied facilities built before 1978. Yale dormitories are not considered targeted housing.
Conroy said the inspections and repairs in TD were part of a University-wide strategic maintenance plan, and not only a response to Ryan’s complaint. He added that the University regularly appraises the condition of its buildings, noting that room inspections and maintenance often happen during spring break because the use of rooms over the summer months makes large-scale inspections impractical. Yale’s residential spaces are repainted, on average, every four years, with annual inspections to determine the condition of painted surfaces, he added.
But Ryan that his windowsill and many others in TD look as though they have been decaying for several years.
Mufson said the lack of clear knowledge about whether buildings contain lead paint is not only a hazard for students, but also for the maintenance workers who are tasked with making repairs. She said that when a maintenance worker came to replace her smoke detector, drilling holes into the ceiling, he was not wearing protective equipment that would have limited exposure to what she said could have been unsafe levels of lead particles in the paint.
“They ought to know for their own health that there may be lead paint there,” Mufson said.
TD Master Jeffrey Brenzel declined to comment because he felt others could speak better to the situation.
The State of Connecticut and City of New Haven define lead-based paint as paint containing more than 0.5 percent lead.