Beware hazards of lead paint, lawn chemicals

Health agency offers advice for spring activities

By: Jennifer Potash
   As Princeton Borough and Princeton Township residents contemplate spring cleaning or home renovation projects, the Princeton Regional Health Department would like them to think about taking a chemical-free approach.
   The Health Department provides fact sheets on how to maintain lawns and gardens without toxic chemicals as well as instructions on the removal of lead-based paint from residences.
   Cleaning up lead-based paint may release unacceptable lead levels into the air, soil and surrounding properties, the department warns. Lead is a soft metal that is poisonous if ingested or inhaled and is especially hazardous to young children and the elderly.
   Lead poisoning can lead to mental retardation and impaired hearing, Princeton Regional Health Officer William Hinshillwood said. Homes built before 1978 are most likely to be painted with lead-based paint, said Mr. Hinshillwood.
   Since most of the borough homes were built prior to 1978, approximately 70 to 80 percent may have been painted with lead-based paint, he said. Most of the houses in the township are more than 20 years old, he said.
   Gov. James E. McGreevey and his family encountered delays in moving into Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton Township, after lead paint was discovered in some of the family’s residential quarters. The McGreeveys have an infant daughter.
   Many residents aren’t aware their homes might have lead-based paint, said Dolores Phillips, a member of the Health Commission.
   A Bank Street resident discovered his home had lead paint when his son’s routine check-up revealed lead in the child’s blood, Ms. Phillips said.
   Local and state governments should undertake an education campaign, she said, including providing information along with property tax rebate checks.
   The Princeton Regional Health Commission approved an ordinance in 1999 requiring residents to collect the dust and chips from exterior lead paint and properly dispose of it when renovating their homes. While the ordinance does not regulate the handling of interior lead-based paint, the Health Department recommends residents check out current regulations and guidelines before beginning interior work.
   Lead paint test kits are available at hardware stores, Ms. Phillips said.
   Grace Sinden, a member of the Health Commission, said if more property owners realized that the chemicals used to create and maintain a lush lawn tend to wind up in water supplies used by their children, pets and wildlife, there would be a greater push for non-toxic products.
   "I hope we can get to the point where we see dandelions on a lawn not as a social stigma but as a badge of honor in protecting health, water supplies and our environment in general," Ms. Sinden said.
   A flier available at the Health Department or on its Web site makes recommendations to those seeking to wean themselves from chemicals for lawn and garden care.
   Barbara Bromley, the horticulturist at Rutgers University Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, said chemical-free products, while more expensive, still produce a handsome-looking lawn.
   The best way to keep a healthy lawn without resorting to pesticides is to first choose the right grass, she said.
   "Grasses are like people — they thrive in certain places," Ms. Bromley said. Use fertilizer sparingly and try to select those that are natural and organic, Ms. Bromley said. Fertilizing the lawn really only needs to be done once a year and early September is the best time, she said.
   And some lawn services will, on request, use less toxic lawn care products, she said.
   For more information on non-toxic lawn care or lead paint removal, visit the Health Department’s Web site at