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Officials Probe Lead-Safe Reports

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

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Maryland residents who thought their homes were safe from lead-based paint might not be certain anymore.

The state’s Department of the Environment launched an investigation into several lead-free certifications issued by one inspector to determine if rental properties actually are lead-free, the department announced Thursday (Jan. 28).

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is assisting the state department with the investigation.

Active Investigation

Officials say they are concerned that more than 300 families might actually be exposed to lead after they discovered seven falsified reports from the unidentified inspector.

That inspector reportedly certified lead-free homes while working as a contractor between 2010 and 2014, the department said. In 2014, his accreditation expired.

To help determine which properties might be affected, the department is sending letters out to residents at 384 properties that the inspector had certified as lead-free.

“We wanted people to be aware this is going on so they can take steps to protect the health of their families,” said department spokesman Jay Apperson during an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

©iStock.com / XiFotos

A Maryland lead-based paint inspector falsified at least seven reports between 2010-2014 stating that rental properties were lead-free, according to the state's Department of the Environment.

According to the department, its Lead Poisoning Prevention Program received a complaint about the validity of a lead-free certificate that the private inspector had certified. Officials determined it to be invalid, so they started to examine other lead-free certifications. Since then, the department has invalidated six additional lead-free certificates that the inspector had certified.

During the time the inspector was testing for lead, he was working for American Homeowner Services LLC, of Lusby, MD, the department said. That company has paid a $5,000 fine for the lead-free certificate violations.

The news of the issued fine and letters to residents pleased longtime lead-poisoning advocate Ruth Ann Norton. She said she believes invalid lead-free certifications are not rare.

“It’s about time that we are ensuring that we do a better job of enforcement and oversight,” Norton told the daily newspaper. “Any level of lead causes cognitive impairment and irreversible damage. There’s no room for a mistake.”

Lead Epidemic

Lead poisoning is the number one health threat in the U.S. for children under the age of 6, the department said. The main concern involves residents who live in properties built prior to 1978 that have not undergone a proper lead-based paint abatement procedure. Prior to 1978, many architectural coatings contained lead.

©iStock.com / gwflash

Most lead-based paint cases involve homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned in the U.S. Maryland requires a lead-free certification to rent properties that may contain unabated lead paint.

Both the state and federal agencies say that lead-based paint exposure can cause serious health problems for anyone who ingests lead into their blood stream. The EPA has a website with information about lead-based paint exposure; what illnesses it can cause; how to prevent the illness from occurring; and how to treat it once it does occur.

The state notes in its letters to residents that none of the people who live at any of the addresses on the list have tested positive for lead poisoning, and the letters are being sent out of an abundance of caution. It urges parents to have their children tested by a physician and says that a government official might visit their home at some point. All of the properties also are being retested.

Tip of the Iceberg?

But it’s the seriousness of the potential effects of lead poisoning—and the number of potential preventable risks that were missed—that has some saying the problem is bigger than just one inspector.

“I think it’s the tip of the iceberg,” state Delegate Jill P. Carter (D) told the daily newspaper about the investigation. “I definitely think there should be a broad investigation.”

According to the daily paper, Carter is pursuing state legislation that would make it easier to sue companies that manufactured lead-based paint prior to 1978. Carter told the Sun that she planned to introduce a bill that “imposes severe criminal penalties and heavy fines on purveyors of fraudulent lead certificates.”

The daily paper said its own investigation published last year found that the inspection system in Maryland is inadequately enforced and out-of-date. Although the state department points out that lead poisoning cases have dropped 98 percent since the state’s lead law first went on the books in 1984, the daily newspaper notes that 4,900 Maryland children have been poisoned in the past decade.

©iStock.com / Dobresum

Most of the addresses on the list are between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. However, 18 addresses are in the City of Baltimore.

Although Maryland law requires a lead-free certification to rent properties, some landlords circumvent the law and rent properties unregistered and without the certificates, the newspaper said. The state’s department also has fewer than a dozen inspectors to cover as many as 400,000 rentals across the state.

Possible Properties Affected

The 384 families that could be affected as a result of the inspector’s false certification live in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas, according to the state’s report. The majority are in Prince George’s County. In Baltimore City, 18 addresses made the list.

Other counties affected are Anne Arundel; Baltimore; Calvert; Charles; Howard; Montgomery; and St. Mary’s.

Meanwhile, a researcher who studies public health and policy said the investigation demonstrates the problem the state has relying on contractors instead of state health professionals.

“Having a law on the books is no good if we’re not enforcing it,” Lawrence Brown, a professor at Morgan State University, told the daily paper. “You can’t cut corners when it comes to lead poisoning.

“We should not have our children in Maryland being poisoned any longer,” Brown continued. “Let’s spend whatever we need to spend.”

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Government; Laws and litigation; Lead; Lead; Lead Disclosure Rule; Lead paint abatement; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Lead rule; Lead test kits; Overcoating lead

Comment from H. J. BOSWORTH, (2/2/2016, 10:48 AM)

Interesting that one state is worried about the health of their citizenry and over there in Michigan, the water department of Flint apparently put soft water through a network of solid lead pipes, dissolved the calcium lining the pipes and poisoned its own people.


Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (2/2/2016, 11:16 AM)

It is beyond interesting; it is frightening how the decisions of public and private officials have impacted so many innocent citizens. With the national attention on the Flint poisoning, let's hope the public's awareness of lead poisoning sources has risen.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (2/8/2016, 10:47 AM)

Unfortunately, Catherine and H.J., these are not likely to have lasting impact (in terms of making a change in attitudes and decision making)...North of the border, in Canada, there was a big issue with biologicals in the water supply because someone took the easy way and then falsified his records. Things will improve for a while, then memories will fade and someone will take a shortcut again. Sad, but true, I'm afraid.


Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (2/9/2016, 12:06 PM)

Are there no Lead Prevention Programs funded by the Canadian government? USA has many doing excellent education work.


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