Friday, January 22, 1999

Budget woes crimp lead paint program


But experts have cheaper methods

BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It will take at least another year for Cincinnati officials to work out the budget problems facing its lead paint control program.

        But experts say cities don't have to spend millions to help neighborhoods reduce lead paint hazards. Likewise, families and property owners don't have to spend small fortunes to make old houses and apartments safer for the developing brains of young children.

        Earlier this week, data from an environmental health conference at the Museum Center revealed children in six Cincinnati neighborhoods still face serious lead poisoning hazards. In addition, a study of street dust in Over-the-Rhine found lead levels four times higher than street dust in a Colorado lead-mining town that has been listed as a federal Superfund cleanup site.

        Cincinnati has been working on lead poisoning issues for years, but will face a money crunch because a $6 million federal grant to clean up lead-tainted homes officially runs out Feb. 28.

        City officials are confident they will be given the rest of 1999 to spend about $1.8 million left in the grant. After that, all bets are off.

        Going into 2000, children will still get blood tests for lead poisoning, but city officials don't know how they will pay for follow-up inspections of lead-tainted homes. Without the grant, the city also has no more money for subsidizing repairs for low-income housing.

        So the city faces a dilemma.

        Simply ordering property owners to repair lead hazards — at costs that often have exceeded $10,000 — might result in more abandoned buildings and fewer affordable places for people to live. Yet backing off on lead control would allow children to continue living with known lead hazards.

        The money debate over lead control is likely to be delayed until next year's budget talks, said Cincinnati Health Commissioner Malcolm Adcock.

        “This problem is not likely to go away quickly,” Dr. Adcock said.

        But activists and lead abatement experts say the city doesn't have to spend millions to do a better job.

        “I don't think enough ideas have been explored and tried,” said Marcheta Gillam, senior housing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati.

        The city could:

        • Expand its public awareness programs to reach out to homeowners, landlords, contractors and tenant groups.

        • Use existing building and health codes — or create new ones — to crack down on old buildings with flaking lead-based paint.

        • Do more street cleaning in high-risk neighborhoods, preferably with newer street vacuum equipment rather than older street sweepers.

        Homeowners and rehab contractors also can take steps to reduce lead hazards, said Bill Menrath, a University of Cincinnati lead paint abatement expert:

        • Keep painted surfaces in good condition with regular fresh coats.

        • Fight dust buildup. Recent studies show that intense household cleanings (involving vacuum cleaners with special HEPA filters and mopping floors with lead-fighting solvents) can keep lead levels low for longer than expected; more than two years in some cases.

        • Fix old wood-sash windows. Chip and dust buildup in window sills can be controlled with special paints and metal strips on friction surfaces. Replacement is an even better option for those who can afford it.

        • Many contractors and do-it-yourselfers don't do enough to control dust and paint chips during rehab work. For example, using plastic tarps to catch paint chips from power-washing jobs can dramatically reduce lead in street dust, Mr. Menrath said.

        • Avoid dry-sanding or dry-scraping old paint. Some cities have gone as far as banning dry-sanding on old houses, unless sanders are equipped with dust-catchers and HEPA filters, Mr. Menrath said.

       



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