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Ask Tamara: “How Concerned Should I Be About Stained Glass Windows?”

IMG_5228Ask Tamara
March 14, 2015
From: Mama E., New York, NY (via Facebook)

This was an exchange – with several follow up questions – and Mama E. has given me permission to post the whole thread here. Thanks for reading. Please comment below if you have any additional questions or answers for Mama E.!


Hi Tamara – Do you have any experience with leaded windows / stained glass windows? We are looking to buy a new home and the windows are leaded. Agents said it’s nothing to worry about, but something tells me I should be concerned about my little ones.

Thank you so much. (-E.)

Tamara’s Response:

Yes – the lead “chalks” into your environment – and can easily rub off on little fingers if they are in reach.


Close-up showing pane of glass covering original window.

We have a single leaded glass window in our home (pictured) and I had a contractor seal it up, by putting put a piece of clear glass in front of it, with a new border (stained to match the original); this kept the lead away from my kids, and it kept the original window intact – and it added a layer of insulation (the air trapped between the original window and the new pane)  – so it was a great solution for that particular window. Not all windows can be addressed in this way.

That window is on our stairs and very easily accessible by young children – but I would be quite concerned about any leaded glass window. Sealants can be used – but the sealants over the lead can often turn yellow and be unsightly – and eventually peel off.

Follow-up response from Tamara:

… and DONT GET ME STARTED about real estate agents – and their general perceptions (misperceptions) about lead hazards in historic homes!

Response from Mama E.

Wow – thank you for the quick response! We are considering buying a home and all the windows are leaded. I have a 2.5 year old and another on the way. Sounds like replacing any windows in a child’s reach (and there are a lot!) is what we would have to do. Might be cost prohibitive. So grateful for the information – thank you!

Follow up response from Mama E. (re: realtors)

They told me today when I asked about the leaded windows that they probably don’t even contain lead. Ha!!

Follow up response from Tamara


I would definitely avoid a house with a lot of leaded glass windows! Multiple sources of chalking lead means lots of lead dust (which works its way into wood, concrete, stone, brick, etc.) has likely been/is an “ingrained” feature of that house! Leaded glass in the kitchen and in the built-ins are particularly icky – since folks store food or dishes in those cabinets and don’t necessarily rinse things off again before use.

I have a friend with a 1990s house in [California] and she has exposed lead-lines in glass on the sides of her fancy “newish” [1996] front door – I was horrified. I asked her to imagine her future grand-kids waiting for their parents to come pick them up – and how they might press their little faces up against the windows to see if mom is here yet – … not worth it! [Note: yes, I have tested several of these “modern replicas” – and they are in fact still often using the same very high lead content lead-lines!]

Response from Mama E.

I totally agree! I hope your friend replaced her door! I will look into the cost of replacing the leaded windows that are in reach of tiny hands. We are looking to buy in an area with many old homes. Other people raised their children in these homes. Are they just lucky they didn’t get sick? Or could there be another explanation for why they didn’t get sick?

Response from Tamara

Just consider the “unexplained” increases in ADHD / ADD / Autism Spectrum / behavioral issues/ special education needs, etc… as well as early cognitive decline at the other end – before jumping to the conclusion “they didn’t get sick.”

Lead exposure doesn’t usually result in acute lead poisoning symptoms (like my children had) – it usually results in cognitive deficits that are later cited as “having no known source” – because the children were not tested for lead as babies – yet the damage was done. [Note: this is not some mere hypothetical speculation—there is an abundance of peer-reviewed published studies explaining the brain-science “forensics” behind the discovery of this unfortunately very common scenario. It has also been identified as an agent in compromised immune system function, kidney disease, heart disease and early-onset Alzheimer’s.]

Have you seen a cut of the film yet? Do you have 94 minutes to watch it? If so let me know and I will send you a password protected link.


Response from Mama E.

That makes sense. I think GMOs are probably another big contributor too. I did see the film a few months ago. It’s wonderful. Your work is truly amazing and I give you so much credit for what you do.

And another question from Mama E.

Do you think painting over lead paint is sufficient protection for children? Unfortunately all the houses in the area we are looking are very old.

Response from Tamara

I don’t think painting over lead paint is in any way sufficient to protect children. It might be a good “interim control” in the event you cannot move out – but the new layers of paint WILL eventually wear and cause a hazard and that’s not something you want to wait for.


Our home where the boys were poisoned. All the white woodwork has new paint where there once was original lead paint on the surface (it was all repainted in the 1990s and we repainted again in 2006.) Built-in has leaded glass doors.

The outside of our home poisoned our kids, but as a result of that we decided to repaint the interior since we were out of the home. After we repainted the interior we rented the house short-term. The tenant had cable TV installed. The Cable TV installer – without any concern and without asking permission – drilled a huge hole right through the baseboard – through all of the layers of paint. He did not clean up at all. He left a small pile of dust (maybe a cm high?) in front of the hole – this pile was full of lead paint dust and the base wood from the baseboards as well as dust pulled in from the outside of the house – since he drilled all the way through. Had I not seen that and immediately cleaned it up (with wet wipes) – new lead dust would have been distributed all over our recently decontaminated and repainted home!

After this incident (with a focus on the baseboards) I thought of my little boys. At the time they were about 18 months and 4 years old… one of their FAVORITE activities was SMASHING toy cars into each other and into any solid objects around them. They would constantly smash the cars into the baseboards at our new-construction temporary rental home. The thought of living in the home where they were poisoned (pictured here) – knowing there was lead paint under the new layers of paint on the original baseboards – and that they could easily smash into them with toys and chip the paint, exposing the lead… was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” / the deciding factor in me never returning to the home that I once thought of as my dream home – the home I had planned on living in with my family for 30+ years and growing old together in with my husband.

5 Responses to Ask Tamara: “How Concerned Should I Be About Stained Glass Windows?”

  1. Elizabeth Osborne March 18, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    Is there any safe way to live in an old home (1930s) particularly with respect to paint? If painting over is not sufficient, would one have to have a certified professional remove all the existing paint? Or is there another way? Thanks!

    • Perry Cabot March 20, 2015 at 11:13 am #

      Elizabeth, you can live in a 1930’s home that has lead based paint and you and your children can be fine provided a few things are known and that you are proactive and aware. If the paint is in excellent condition (not peeling, flaking, chalking, chipping etc) it’s generally not a hazard unless it’s disturbed and dust and debris is created. Pay special attention if you have original windows as points of friction and impact are classic areas where painted surfaces rub or bump together and dust with lead in it that is accessible to little kid’s hands can be the result. Regular attention to these areas with HEPA vacuuming and soapy wipe downs can help maintain surfaces in a safer state but that is an ongoing maintenance type approach.

      People shouldn’t have to fear their homes! Some homes do have loads of hazards and need serious attention to be safe for kids but certainly there are many old homes that are fine places to raise a family and that may still be the case when lead paint is in the homes.

      Perry Cabot
      Multnomah County Leadline

  2. Rory's mom March 30, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    What about stained-glass “Tiffany”-style lampshades? They are not antiques at all, but contemporary reproductions. I thought they used copper to join the pieces of glass, but now I’m worried. I have three table lamps bought resale and a fan from Lowe’s.
    So I shouldn’t let my daughter touch stained glass at church either then, huh?
    Thank you for your work.

  3. Guy Somers November 27, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    OMG Tamara… where do you get your information? Side of a Cracker Jacks Box? I’ve been doing leaded glass for 40 years and I get tested yearly for lead poisoning. Stop this nonsense. – Guy Somers Owner of Long Island Stained Glass by Somers.

  4. Jann February 3, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    If you are so terrified of stained glass windows then you certainly shouldnt be vaccinating your children. Injecting mercury and toxic chemicals into young bodies causes far more damage.

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