Thursday, September 27, 2001

Anti-lead forces join up

Advocates, landlords want break in law

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Environmental experts and better-housing advocates have joined with landlords, urging changes to state law and local regulations to reduce high lead poisoning in Cincinnati's children.

        During a public forum Tuesday, the Cincinnati Area Lead Advisory Committee urged the Cincinnati Board of Health and state lawmakers to make it easier for property owners to do low-cost lead hazard control work without having to hire certified lead-abatement contractors.

        The regulations also would give the city health commissioner more power to respond to complaints about chipping lead paint and to order repairs or fines.

        Building owners “don't want to see kids getting sick. But our maintenance guys are not allowed to do routine types of work (on buildings) if it is related to lead abatement,” said Charles Tassell, a spokesman for the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association.

        Marcheta Gillam, a Legal Aid Society attorney and advocate for reducing lead exposure, agreed.

        “Landlords don't need to hire the guys in spacesuits for every repair. But the law says it's spacesuits or nothing,” she said.

        Lead-paint exposure is still a problem for many older city neighborhoods, where most houses and apartments were built before lead was banned from paint in 1978.

        Lead poisoning occurs when unmaintained buildings with chipping paint create lead-laced dust that is ingested by young children, and when rehabbers release lead dust while sandblasting or dry-scraping old paint.

        In Cincinnati, about 14 percent of all children under age 6 have lead levels in their blood that exceed the federal health limit of 10 micrograms per deciliter.

        That rate of ingestion is nearly twice as high as the statewide average of 8 percent, and more than three times the U.S. average of 4.4 percent of all young children.

        Lead exposure alters early brain development, and the resulting damage cannot be reversed with medication, said Dr. Bob Bornschein, a lead expert with the University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health.

        But lead abatement costs $2,500 to $25,000 per apartment or home, or an average cost of $6,000 per unit. City officials fear property owners will opt to abandon their buildings rather than fix them.

        “When you have a building that rents for $300 to $500 a month, you can't afford to bring in risk assessors that charge $100 an hour or to pay for full abatement,” Mr. Tassell said.

        Ohio is among few states that require that all lead-paint work be done by certified contractors, Mr. Tassell said, preventing building owners from performing even simple repairs, such as installing plastic strips in wooden window jambs or covering old paint with thicker “encapsulating” paint.


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