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Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website:

PPG Now Fully Lead Free, But What About Old Paint Chips?

Pittsburgh-based PPG says it has achieved its goal to eliminate lead from all products by 2020.

Pittsburgh-based PPG says it has made good on its 2016 pledge to eliminate lead from all products by 2020.

At the time it made the promise, PPG said lead was present in just one percent of its entire portfolio and was only in industrial paints, as coverings for steel or concrete. But some scientists and activists say these products still present hazards to human health.

“That paint is going to end up in the environment, it’s virtually unstoppable,” said Terrence Collins, a chemical sustainability expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

Collins said his concern is that because paint flakes, it leaches into soil and waterways, which impacts the food chain.

“If you painted a bridge a number of decades ago with leaded paint, it’s already done a great deal of its corroding and that lead has been released into the environment," said Collins.

Perry Gottesfeld, an environmental activist and former-PPG shareholder, said that PPG has a responsibility towards lead remediation.

“Every time a building or structure is renovated, the lead paint is disturbed,” he said. “In that process, both workers and residents can become exposed to that hazard.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that lead exposure can cause anemia, kidney failure and brain damage.

However, there is disagreement with how much ambient lead in the environment is affecting human health.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Bernard Goldstein said lead pollution in the water and soil isn’t that potent. Goldstein, who has previously served as a consultant for PPG, said his concern is regarding exposure to lead paint from structures after they’re torn down.

“There’s going to be piles of old lead paint around,” said Goldstein. “Kids go and play in these areas, if they do, they will be at risk.”

PPG declined an interview request from WESA for this story, just as it did in 2016 when it first announced that it would eliminate lead in its products.

Mark Silvey, director of corporate communications at PPG, said in a written statement, “PPG operates its business in compliance with local laws and regulations, and takes seriously its commitment to product stewardship.”

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.