Massachusetts Lead Law

Massachusetts enacted one of the nation’s first state lead poisoning prevention laws in 1971. The original statute embodied the principle of primary prevention, which remains at the heart of the current law. Since 1971, Massachusetts property owners are required to permanently control specified lead-based paint lead hazards in any housing unit in which a child under the age of six resides. The 1971 law provided for enforcement of this duty by both a newly-created state Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program within the Department of Public Health and by local boards of health. In addition, the law enlisted the help of the tort system for enforcement by providing that property owners would be “strictly liable” for damages resulting from failure to make a child’s apartment lead-safe. (“Strict liability” means that owners are liable even if they didn’t know that lead-based paint hazards were present.)

The law was revised in 1987 in three ways. First, the amendments sought to improve the quality and safety of abatement work by requiring use of trained and licensed contractors, relocation of occupants during abatement, and daily and final cleanup in units undergoing abatement.Second, the amendments were designed to substantially increase the number of units brought into compliance by providing financial assistance (a $1,000 state income tax credit and a grant/loan program) and mandating that prospective purchasers of residential premises receive notice about the lead law and have the opportunity to get an inspection.Finally, the amendments embraced the principle of universal blood lead screening, mandating that physicians screen children and that health insurers cover screening costs.

In 1993, the law was amended further still. Compliance costs were lowered by allowing owners to use interim controls for up to two years before permanently containing or abating lead-based paint hazards. Other cost-reducing provisions allowed the use of encapsulants and eased safety precautions when children would not be endangered. Owners were provided with a larger state income tax credit ($1,500/unit), and a new state fund was set up to provide funds for lead hazard control. Finally, owners who obtain certification from a licensed inspector that interim controls or abatement have been performed are no longer held strictly liable, and insurers are required to provide coverage for any negligence claims (short of gross or willful negligence) that may be brought against such owners.