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The Dartmouth
May 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Peeling lead paint found in Russell Sage Hall

The College acknowledged that they are aware of lead paint used in buildings around campus but that its presence does not “automatically” indicate cause for concern.

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A positive test for lead in Russell Sage Hall while a student was moving into his dorm on Sept. 10 has called attention to the cleanliness and safety of dorms on campus. The Dartmouth Office of Environmental Health and Safety and Residential Operations plan to repaint areas where chipped and peeling lead has been found in order to encase it within the paint, according to environmental and occupational safety officer Ryan Gill.

Russell Sage resident Jack Sinatra ’25 said that while moving in, he found his room with peeling paint on his windowsill and in his bathroom, as well as “dusty and grimy” surfaces in the room. 

Sinatra’s mother, Lucia Sinatra, said that the condition of the room was “shocking,” with a “heavy level” of dust making it difficult to clean the room’s window sills and bathroom. After hearing rumors about a positive lead test in another room in the building from a friend, Jack Sinatra said that he decided to buy at-home test kits from Home Depot, which he said showed positive tests for lead paint on his windowsill and in his bathroom.

According to Gill, there is lead-based paint in “a multitude of buildings” on campus, which he said should be expected at an institution as old as Dartmouth. EHS director Annette Chism added that the presence of lead paint should not be immediate cause for concern.

“As long as we’re managing the lead paint, it’s not a hazard,” Chism said. “We are aware that there are places on campus with lead paint, but that does not mean we automatically have a hazard in all of those spaces.”

Lead paint poses a risk when lead particles are ingested or inhaled after they are disturbed or made into dust — such as in the case of the deteriorating, cracking or peeling lead paint found in Russell Sage — according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For this reason, the College’s response to the paint situation will vary by room, depending on the state of the chipping paint in each location, Gill said. 

According to Gill, though the College has been aware of the presence of lead paint in buildings across campus, the College did not know about the peeling and chipping of the paint in Russell Sage prior to this year’s move-in. Residential operations facilities manager Chris Johnson said that Residential Operations relies on maintenance and custodial staff, who are in the buildings daily, in addition to student’s Room Inventory Condition forms, to give feedback on any issue back to the office. Johnson added that the short turnover time between residents in between terms can make the department’s oversight more difficult because some rooms end up getting missed. 

“The biggest issue … is that we miss these things,” Johnson said. “We’re not infallible.”

Remediation efforts will vary depending on the size, location and state of the deteriorating paint, according to Gill. He said that the College traps lead paint particles using a high efficiency particulate air filter and wet wipe before repainting the area where the deteriorating paint was found. He added that in other instances, EHS can put in a drop ceiling or a fiberglass reinforced panel to encase the chipping paint.

While the College is taking some steps to contain the lead paint, some students feel unsatisfied with current measures. Sinatra’s roommate Noah Da Silva ’25 said that another student living on his floor got their room repainted to contain lead paint during the housing move-in period after their parent had complained, while Da Silva and Sinatra are still waiting for their wall to be repainted after calling in themselves. Da Silva and Sinatra said they were told that Residential Operations would repair their wall on Monday, but no one showed up to do the work. On Wednesday, however, Residential Operations inspected the room again.

“It’s kind of shocking … the difference between when a parent gets involved and when a student is trying to get involved,” Da Silva said. “It feels like they’re just trying to placate the parents and family, rather than actually improve conditions.”

Lucia Sinatra said that she wonders why the upkeep and maintenance process of older dorms on campus was not addressed prior to students moving in. 

“I do not understand why Dartmouth has not allocated resources to update the dorms,” she said. 

Gill said that EHS understands the concerns from students and parents. 

“It was a little embarrassing to see some of the shape stuff was in,” he said. “But we can’t put the genie back in the bottle and we need to do the best we can with what we have in making it as safe as possible for the students.”

According to Da Silva, a College employee sent to inspect the lead paint in his dorm room’s bathroom said that the only way to fully remove the lead paint requires the College to “gut” the bathroom walls. 

“It makes you wonder … What kind of value are they placing on our health?” he said. “Apparently less than the money it would take to renovate [the dorms].”