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Lead Reports Prompt Calls for Action

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

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A group of state lawmakers from the Philadelphia area are calling for increased investments to help combat lead paint that remains in older houses in that city and beyond.

According to Philly.com, State Rep. Donna Bullock and State Sens. Vincent Hughes and Art Haywood held a press conference Monday (Oct. 31) at Philadelphia City Hall, calling for more money and staffing to help ensure that children growing up in older homes are not being exposed to dangerous levels of poisonous lead.

No Quick Fix

Recent reporting by The Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com (all owned by Philadelphia Media Network) has revealed that thousands of children in the city each year are diagnosed with lead poisoning, at a rate higher than the lead crisis in Flint, MI.

Donna Bullock, Vincent Hughes, Art Haywood
PA General Assembly/Senate

From left, PA State Rep. Donna Bullock and State Sens. Vincent Hughes and Art Haywood are calling for increased funding and staffing to deal with lead hazards in Philadelphia homes.

But while Flint’s situation was remedied by switching back to a water source treated with anticorrosives, and efforts are being made to replace older pipelines that have lead in them, Philadelphia’s lead problem poses tougher challenges.

Because lead poisoning in children in Philadelphia is largely traced to chipping and peeling lead paint in homes, eradicating the problem involves ensuring that homeowners and landlords remove all paint from prior to 1978, when lead was banned in paints for residential use in the United States.

Thousands in Danger

State Rep. Bullock related how her own son was found to have elevated lead levels, likely stemming from playing in his grandmother’s house in the city’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, the area of the city where children are most likely to suffer from lead poisoning. One in five children in that neighborhood tested positive for lead poisoning by Centers for Disease Control standards in 2014.

The CDC recommends intervention when blood lead levels exceed 5 micrograms per deciliter. Philadelphia sends workers to discuss the issue with the family when a child tests between 5 and 9.9 micrograms, according to Philly.com. Readings of 10 and above spur a home inspection by the Department of Public Health.

Chipping paint on windowsill
© iStock.com / herzstaub

Children are most at risk for lead poisoning from old paint, the CDC says, because they tend to touch things that might be contaminated with deteriorating paint, then put their fingers in their mouths.

According to Philly.com, 2,700 children in the city had lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter last year.

No Safe Level

The CDC says there is no known safe blood lead level. Lead exposure can lead to brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems, according to the federal agency.

Children are most at risk for lead poisoning from old paint, the CDC says, because they tend to touch things that might be contaminated with deteriorating paint, then put their fingers in their mouths. They are also susceptible because their bodies and brains are continuing to develop and grow.

Poor Enforcement, Low Staffing

The Philly.com investigative series “Toxic City” has reported that, while Philadelphia has taken steps to require landlords to ensure safe and lead-free homes for families with children, laws on the books are generally poorly enforced.

The city’s Lead Court, the first of its kind when established in 2002, specifically addresses cases involving landlords who fail to mitigate lead hazards in their properties, but Philly.com says the court sees only the most serious cases, and in general, housing laws and public health codes aren’t well enforced, because the city doesn’t have the personnel.

Lead hazard
© iStock.com / threespeedjones

Philly.com also details situations in which landlords who did make an effort to have lead paint removed did so with crews not properly trained in mitigation.

The publication notes that in the past three years, Philadelphia’s federal funding to fight lead in homes was cut by one-third, from $9 million to $6 million, and the city had to slash its Lead and Healthy Homes program from 65 employees to just 25.

In its recent reporting, Philly.com also details situations in which landlords who did make an effort to have lead paint removed did so with crews not properly trained in mitigation, some of whom would use torches to burn off paint, or scrape or sand it, with residents still in the house, putting them at further risk.

‘Real Solutions’

The lawmakers at Monday’s press conference were joined by community activists and public health advocates, all calling for a concerted effort at all levels of government to come up with an effective solution for Philadelphia’s lead problem.

State Sen. Hughes, according to Philly.com, called for a joint task consisting of representatives of the city, state and federal government, “to come up with real solutions.”

   

Tagged categories: Government; Hazards; Health and safety; Lead; Lead paint abatement

Comment from H. J. BOSWORTH, (11/2/2016, 11:21 AM)

I understand the concern for today's young children. But there seems to be so little discussion about the millions of us that grew up in older homes and were probably somewhat poisoned by the same paint in our childhoods. I wonder how much of the mental health issues we have in the US are due to lead ingestion during childhoods in older homes?


Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (11/2/2016, 2:59 PM)

Excellent point. Your question is rare. More often I hear, "I grew up with lead paint and I'm fine!"


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