The Sweaty Penguin

Hosted ByEthan Brown

The most fun you've ever had while learning environmental issues! Episodes include a comedy monologue and expert interview. Welcome to Antarctica's Hottest Podcast.

4. Lead Paint

We often think of lead paint as a problem of the past, but in reality, any house built before 1978 could have lead paint on the walls, and when they do, the health risks are enormous, especially for young children. We’ll discuss the environmental and health problems lead paint poses and consider ways to test for and abate lead in our homes. We’re joined by Frank Serpe (Boston University), Katherine Wright (Boston University), and Rick Reibstein: Lecturer at Boston University and Founder and Director of the Coalition for a Public Conversation on Lead.

When I started writing this episode, I had a different vision for it because I didn’t have a full understanding of the extent to which lead is still an issue for public health in the United States.

Obviously, the devastating events in Flint, MI educated me on lead water contamination when they were a leading national news story, and the prominence of this story gave me the impression that this was the main, or even the only, threat that lead still posed to public health. While water contamination continues to cause severe damage in many communities, it is not the only issue we still face.

I knew that we had used lead paint in the past, but when I learned that it is currently the leading cause of lead poisoning in U.S. children, I was shocked. Though lead paint seems like an outdated issue, it is still a very clear and present danger. Unfortunately, lead paint has not garnered the public attention that it deserves, and without public understanding of the issue, there is little hope for progress. My hope is that we can galvanize more support to fight this issue, and this podcast is one way in which I hope to contribute.

We were thrilled to have Rick Reibstein on the show to discuss lead paint. His wealth of experience both working on this issue and educating the public on it made him uniquely qualified to discuss it with our guests, and his input provided valuable context. Our guests, Katherine and Frank, did an excellent job analyzing the issue, and they ended up in agreement on almost every issue, a situation which made me optimistic for the future of this issue.

I hope that someday (soon), we will see greater public interest in this issue and more action to remove lead paint and solve its many affiliated problems. Moreover, I hope that this issue compels us to put greater consideration into what materials we are using now, and how those may affect us and future generations.

Thank you for listening about this important issue! Tune in to our next episode on Friday!


Like Caroline and like our student guests, I always thought of lead paint as a problem of the past until I moved off-campus into an apartment in Boston and had to sign the lead paint forms with my lease. I then learned that, since every building in my neighborhood in Boston was built before 1978, I was pretty much rolling the dice wherever I went. And it may not keep me up at night, but it does make me very nervous knowing there might be lead paint on the walls, now knowing the health impacts.

Professor Reibstein was a pleasure to talk to, as always, and our guests Frank and Katherine gave great insights as well. It was actually hard to find anything for them to disagree on during the conversation! Whether you’re coming from a place of practicality or fervor, it’s hard not to end up at the same spot, because as Professor Reibstein pointed out, the costs of not doing anything are far worse than the costs of taking action.

If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this episode, it’s that Lead. Paint. Is. Still. A. Problem. The less we take it for granted, the safer we’ll all be. I know it’s weird to think about any health issue besides COVID-19 at the moment, which is completely understandable (it was weird for me too), but especially when we are thinking about health and stuck in our homes, try your best not to lick the wall.



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