HEALTH at HOME

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office works to ensure compliance with environmental and public health laws and to ensure that landlords, tenants, and owners have accurate information to ensure compliance with the law and safe and healthy homes. Home environmental health risks can create significant sources of illness or injury and can affect residents’ ability to safely enjoy their homes, whether they own or lease them. A spectrum of federal, state, and local agencies regulates and provides assistance for issues related to environmental health at home.

***Note: This website provides a summary of laws, rules, and regulations for informational purposes, but it does not constitute legal opinion or alter any person’s obligation to comply with the law as written.***

Table of Contents

Lead

Lead

Lead exposure is a critical health issue that can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children aged six years and younger are the most susceptible to its effects. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems and lower IQ, among other health concerns. In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma, and even death. Lead can be harmful to adults as well, from cardiovascular effects to reproductive problems.

Lead pollution in the home can impact people through several pathways.

  • Lead sources at home include dust, water pipes, plumbing materials, ceramics, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
  • Lead paint can a major source of lead pollution in the home, especially if your home was built before the banning of lead-based paint in 1978.
  • If you do have lead paint in your home: it may require attention, especially if it is deteriorating (i.e., peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged, or damp) or if it is on surfaces that children can reach.
  • Lead paint on surfaces that rub can create lead-contaminated dust in the air. Pay attention to surfaces that rub against one another or get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as windows and windowsills; doors and door frames; stairs, railings, banisters, and porches.
  • Lead can even create health risks outdoors in your yard. Lead may be present in the air, the soil, and in groundwater from industrial sources or certain aircraft exhaust and may travel long distances before settling to the ground.

 

Resources are available to help you identify whether there is lead in your home or on your property, what to do about it, and how to pay for it, including the following: 

  • Have a lead risk assessment done. A certified lead risk assessor can inspect and test a home for lead-based paint hazards in the paint, dust, and soil, and provide a report on the results. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) webpage on evaluating and eliminating lead-based paint hazards has links for finding certified lead risk assessment firms in Massachusetts.
  • Demand that your landlord provide information regarding lead in your home. Federal law requires the landlord or seller of a pre-1978 home to tell tenants about known lead paint and lead paint hazards, and to provide: a lead warning statement, an information pamphlet from the EPA and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a lead disclosure form. Under certain conditions, the law allows a tenant or buyer to withdraw from the lease due to the presence of lead. If a tenant (or buyer) of a pre-1978 home did not receive lead disclosure, you can contact HUD’s Lead Regulations hotline and make a report at (202) 402-7698, or leadregulations@hud.gov
  • Learn more about lead pollution and safety. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a number of resources regarding lead pollution and safety here.
  • Ask for help. State and local authorities can help if you are having difficulty dealing with a landlord or contractor who is failing to meet legal requirements on lead safety. See the links below for contact information.
  • Check your home through online records. Tenants and owners can check the Lead Safe Homes database to see if there is prior inspection history at a specific property.

Additional Resources   for Lead

Asbestos

Asbestos

Asbestos is a kind of mineral fiber historically used in a variety of building materials (e.g., insulation, roofing, flooring and ceiling material, caulking, and mastic) that can cause serious health risks if it is inhaled or ingested. If asbestos is present, it may or may not be visible because individual asbestos fibers are microscopic. However, people with training or experience working with asbestos-containing materials can recognize materials that are more likely to contain some amount of asbestos.

 

If asbestos is present in materials around your home, it does not necessarily mean it is causing health impacts. Asbestos can be kept safely and legally if it is properly maintained. On the other hand, if asbestos becomes worn or damaged, it can become “friable,” which means that it has degraded enough to make it more likely to be released into the air and become a greater risk to human health.

 

If you or your landlord are performing demolition or renovation work that could impact asbestos, there are detailed safety requirements that must be performed before, during, and after the work:  

  • Use certified contractors: Most activity that affects materials that contain asbestos must be performed by contractors who are trained and certified by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS).
  • Comply with safe work practices: All asbestos-contaminated waste material must be handled, stored, transported, and disposed under certain rules because exposure to such waste can potentially cause health risks.
  • Obey special requirements at schools: Schools also have special requirements under federal law when their buildings contain asbestos, and they must keep certain records about that asbestos and provide it upon request.

 

If you have concerns or questions about asbestos in or around your home, several state agencies and municipal boards inspect asbestos work and provide assistance with asbestos issues, including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), DLS, and your municipality’s Board of Health.

Additional Resources   for Asbestos

Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste, Odors, and Pests

Solid waste includes everything from household waste to debris from demolition, construction, and renovation projects and yard waste. Different kinds of solid waste call for different methods of disposal; improper waste management can lead to a variety of problems for residential buildings.

  • Hazardous Household Waste: Many standard household products contain chemicals that are hazardous when mixed with regular trash or otherwise disposed of improperly. This includes cleaning fluids, paint, batteries, electronics, and even unused medicine.
  • Putting household hazardous waste in the regular trash can create health risks: Hazardous household waste can make its way to waterways and pollute the natural environment, harm wildlife, and reduce drinking water safety. Some hazardous household waste can cause explosions in garbage cans or trucks and create a risk of fire and child and pet poisonings. Some oils and hazardous waste, including used engine oil, may need to be stored according to certain rules to keep it from endangering people.
  • Non-hazardous Waste Restrictions: Even non-hazardous waste materials may have rules restricting how they may be disposed. Recyclable material like glass and metal containers, paper and cardboard, clothes and other textiles, yard waste, asphalt, brick, and concrete may be banned from normal disposal to encourage recycling and preserve space in disposal facilities. Food waste from commercial sources may also be banned from normal disposal to encourage recycling and composting and to reduce nuisances and odors.

As a result, you should pay attention to what solid waste you throw in the trash. If you have solid waste that might contain dangerous chemicals, or if you have questions about how to dispose of certain waste, you can use this resource or refer to this guide for disposal information. You can find collection facilities and waste collection events for products that require special disposal or recycling in your town here.

Sometimes, other people’s waste (like your landlord, a neighbor, or a contractor) may create a nuisance for you, including by causing odors or pest problems, or even health dangers. Impacts that are not severe enough to affect your daily life in your home may not be serious enough to be considered a nuisance. However, there are steps you can take if you suspect that someone you know is improperly disposing of solid waste or if you are experiencing severe odors or pest infestations.

  • Municipal boards of health often investigate and regulate solid waste and nuisance in the first instance, and you can seek the assistance of your local board, often by contacting your city hall or municipal center.
  • You can also seek assistance from other state and local agencies, like the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), Fire Departments, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (DAR), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health depending on the type of waste handling, storage, transportation, or disposal issue.
SW

RESOURCES:

  • Solid or Hazardous Waste: Report concerns about improper storage, transportation, or disposal of solid waste by filing a complaint with MassDEP with the information you have here. You can also call the Environmental Strike Force at 617-556-1000 or 1-888-846-5283 or by email at ESF.hotline@mass.gov. You can view lists of solid waste disposal, transfer, recycling, and composting facilities here. You can also find information on how waste oil is regulated here and on how to safely manage hazardous household products here.
  • Pests: If you are a homeowner and you are having an issue with wild animals, such as a rodent infestation, reach out to “Problem Animal Control” agents for help. They can be reached by phone at 1-508-389-6300 or by email at Mass.Wildlife@mass.gov. You can find more information about Problem Animal Control agents here.
  • Odors: If you are experiencing severe odors, you can contact your local Board of Health or Health Agent. If these odors are associated with a nearby solid waste management facility, such as a landfill, public complaints of odors may require facility operators to investigate the source of the odor and evaluate measures to correct it. If the odors may be associated with an agricultural composting operation, you can learn about DAR’s regulation of those operations here.
  • Learn more about Massachusetts policies on solid waste: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a number of resources regarding its policies and guidance on solid waste disposal here.

 

Mold & Water Damage

If mold is found growing in homes and buildings, there is usually a problem with water or moisture. Mold can grow wherever there is moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been a flood.

 

Mold can cause many health effects, such as a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash. People with asthma, allergies, or other preexisting health conditions may have severe reactions.

You should regularly inspect your home for signs of water damage and visible mold. Mold growth can be minimized by:

  • keeping humidity levels as low as you can, for example by using an air conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months.
  • promptly fixing leaks, and drying wet areas, like carpeting, furniture, and flooring after flooding.
  • minimizing carpet usage.
  • properly ventilating shower, laundry, and cooking areas.

Mold typically requires removal, cleaning, and/or replacement of affected material. Health issues can persist and mold contamination can recur if a source of moisture remains.

In many cases you can clean the mold yourself after taking proper safety precautions (see the Additional Resources section below), but you may consider contacting a mold remediation professional to know whether your mold problem is completely fixed.

Paying for sampling for the presence of mold is not usually recommended because the effects of mold on people can vary greatly and mold should be removed regardless of its type. A careful inspection of the work area is typically appropriate instead.

  

Your local town or city board of health may be able to assist you with the presence of mold, dampness, water damage, and other related sanitary code issues. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection do not explicitly regulate the amount of mold spores in indoor air. 

Mold & Water Damage

Additional Resources   for Mold & Water Damage

Noise

Noise

Noise in and around your home can be annoying, but it can also be severe and/or regular enough to impact your home life in ways that are more than a simple annoyance. Many state and local agencies have rules regarding noise impacts in the home when they impact your use and enjoyment of your home or your health. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has issued regulations and policies concerning the kind of noise pollution that is illegal. Municipalities may also have their own noise ordinances regulating noise.

Your local Board of Health is the primary organization responsible for responding to most noise disturbances. The local Board of Health works closely with the MassDEP and local police departments to properly address any noise complaints.

For traffic noise, other agencies may be able to assist you:

  • The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is the primary organization responsible for responding to complaints concerning state highways, traffic noise, and noise barriers.
  • Your local Police Department is the primary organization responsible for responding to complaints of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, including from recreational vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles.
  • Municipal Departments of Public Works are the primary organizations responsible for responding to issues related to local streets and roadways.

Additional Resources   for Noise

Drinking Water

Drinking Water

Drinking water is supplied to homes by either a public water system or a private water system, like a private well. Either way, the homeowner is responsible for ensuring a supply of potable drinking water in sufficient quantity and pressure to meet the ordinary needs of the home’s occupants, according to the state sanitary code, section 410.130. However, if you are a tenant, your landlord may charge you for water and related equipment under your lease.

Drinking water must come from a source that has been approved by the Department of Environmental Protection of the local board of health, as required by the state sanitary code section 410.130 and the definition of “potable water” in section 410.010.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's (MassDEP) Drinking Water Program ensures that the drinking water delivered by most public water systems in Massachusetts complies with national standards, or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL), set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state standards, like the Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Levels (MMCL), set by MassDEP, for a wide variety of potentially harmful contaminants.

To ensure that community water systems are safe, a water supplier typically has several responsibilities, including:

  • The water supplier must regularly test for the presence of bacteria, lead and other heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides, and industrial solvents.
  • If testing reveals an exceedance of an MCL or other limits, the water supplier must notify customers through local news media, according to section 22.16 of the state drinking water regulations. Some of these notifications must be multilingual, depending on the proportion of non-speaking customers served.
  • If bacteria or chemicals are found in levels that pose a threat to your health, the water supply must be treated to remove the contaminants or taken out of service if the contamination cannot be removed according to section 22.03 of the state drinking water regulations.

One contaminant of particular concern, lead, can leach into drinking water if the pipes that provide your water or the plumbing materials used to install them are made of lead. Although in many cases the public water main in the street is made of iron or steel, the service line that connects your home to the water main in the street may be made of lead. Typically, the owner of a home is responsible for the replacement of the service line to the house from the street.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS are another category of contaminants that have recently raised significant concerns. They are found in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products and have made their way into drinking water in many municipalities. MassDEP has set MCLs for six of the most significant PFAS based on the current science, and public water supplies must regulate them like any other pollutant with an MCL.

If you have a private well, you may wish to have your water tested for PFAS. There are a limited number of labs in Massachusetts approved by MassDEP to test for PFAS.

Additional Resources   for Drinking Water

Manufactured Housing

Manufactured Housing

In manufactured housing communities, homeowners own their homes but must rent the lot on which the home is located from the community’s owner. Many manufactured housing residents have found that manufactured homes (sometimes called “mobile homes”) offer the benefits of traditional site-built housing at a much lower cost. The Commonwealth’s Manufactured Housing Act and the Manufactured Housing Community Regulations (links below) were promulgated by the Attorney General and set forth the rights and responsibilities of both owners and residents of manufactured housing communities.

In manufactured housing communities, homeowners, and the community owner share responsibilities for environmental issues in several ways:

  • The owners of manufactured housing communities are required to establish and publicly post rules governing residents’ use and occupancy of their lots and the common areas of the community.
  • The homeowner is responsible for making sure that conditions inside the home, such as the home’s plumbing or electrical systems beyond the outside point of connection, comply with the state sanitary Code, see 105 C.M.R. § 410.020, while the community owner is responsible for such compliance outside of the home.
  • The homeowner is responsible for installing, maintaining, repairing, and replacing the home’s basic utility systems, including plumbing, furnaces, boilers, and electrical systems, inside of the home, while the community owner has that responsibility for such systems (including oil tanks) outside up to the point of connection at the home.

Additional Resources   for Manufactured Housing

Sewage & Septic Systems

Sewage

All homes in Massachusetts must have a sewage and wastewater drainage system (also known as a “sanitary drainage system”) connected either to a public sewage system, a permitted private wastewater facility, or a private septic system, according to the state sanitary code, section 410.130.   

Sanitary systems must be maintained in proper condition because, if not, the systems can cause different types of health and environmental problems.

  • Sewage contains bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can make people sick, most commonly by causing gastrointestinal illness, skin rashes, or infections. 
  • The back-up or release of sewage into a home can make it unfit to live in and state or local agencies may need to take action to protect residents’ health and safety. 
  • The release of sewage outside of a home to the ground, such as through a septic system failure, may expose residents to sewage and contaminate the home’s drinking water supply, especially if there is an on-site drinking water well. 
  • Improperly maintained plumbing fixtures and piping in a home may also cause the release of sewer gases, typically including hydrogen sulfide, that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, sore throat, or eye irritation. 

To prevent such sewage exposures, homeowners must ensure that a home’s sanitary drainage system is free from leaks, obstructions, or other defects, including: sinks, washbasins, bathtubs, showers, toilets, water pipes, drains, connections to water and sewer lines, and septic systems, dishwashers, garbage grinders, and clothes washing machines.

If you have problems with your septic system and need to perform repairs or upgrades, there are loan and tax relief programs that may help you pay for such work. You can find information on several programs here.

Additional Resources   for Sewage & Septic Systems

Legal Assistance

The Office of the Attorney General proudly advocates for the benefit of all of the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Attorney General’s constitutional and statutory responsibilities, however, usually prevent the Office from providing direct legal advice to individual residents, or from representing them individually in court. If you feel that you need personal legal representation or if you are seeking personal legal advice, you should speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford a private attorney, there are many organizations in Massachusetts that may be able to assist you with legal advice, including the following organizations. If you would like to report a violation of law involving environmental public health issues, you may file a report with the Attorney General’s Office here.

Additionally, if an environmental condition in your rental housing is impacting your health, you may be able to request a reasonable accommodation or modification. You can learn more about reasonable accommodations and modifications here. If you believe your landlord has wrongly denied your request for a reasonable accommodation or modification, you may file a civil rights complaint with the Attorney General’s Office here.

Legal Aid Organizations

  • Community Legal Aid
    • Offices in: Northampton, Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester
    • 413-781-7814
    • Family and older adult issues
  • Greater Boston Legal Services
    • 197 Friend St, Boston
    • 617-371-1234
    • Consumer rights, bankruptcy, education, workers’ rights, family, housing, healthcare, government benefits, immigration, taxes, state supplementary benefits, victims of crime.
  • Lawyer for the Day Program
    • In-courthouse legal services across Massachusetts. Programs differ by courthouse and may have income limits
  • Hampden County Legal Clinic
    • Service in: Greater Springfield
    • 50 State St, Springfield
    • 413-733-6500
    • Consumer rights, housing issues, family law,  
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
    • 23 Everett St #1, Cambridge
    • 617-495-4408
    • Housing, family law, government benefits, wage-and-hour law
  • Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School
    • 122 Boylston St, Jamaica Plain
    • 617-522-3003
    • Disability, family law, consumer rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, housing, government benefits, veterans’ issues
  • MetroWest Legal Services
    • 63 Fountain Street #304, Framingham
    • 508-629-1830/800-696-1501
    • Family law, education, elder law, housing, government benefits, disability, immigration, housing
  • Neighborhood Legal Services
    • 181 Union St, Suite 201, Lynn
    • 781-599-7730
    • 170 Common Street, Suite 300, Lawrence
    • 978-686-6900
    • Consumer rights, family, disabilities, employment, housing, public benefits, veterans’ issues.
  • Northeast Legal Aid
    • 50 Island St #203a, Lawrence
    • 35 John Street, #302, Lowell
    • 181 Union Street, #201A, Lynn
    • 978-458-1465
    • Housing, Public Benefits, Family Law, Consumer & Tax, Record Sealing, Domestic Violence, Elder Law, Discrimination
  • South Coastal Legal Services
    • 62 Main St #302, Brockton
    • 22 Bedford St., Fall River
    • 21 South Sixth St. New Bedford
    • 460 West Main St., Hyannis
    • 800-244-9023
    • Housing, public benefits, family law, immigration, education, elder law, consumer rights, employment, victims of crime
  • Volunteer Lawyers Project
    • 7 Winthrop Square, 2d Floor, Boston
    • 617-423-0648; intakes: 617-603-1700
    • Appeals, consumer law, bankruptcy, employment, family law, housing issues

Help Us Improve Mass.gov  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.
Feedback