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October 4, 2002 - Law Center Didn't Notify its Tenants of Risks of Lead Paint

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined the Franklin Pierce Law Center $22,000 for failing to alert students renting school-owned houses of the risks of lead paint. The law center has agreed to pay the fine and take the settlement one step further by voluntarily spending $103,000 to fully abate lead paint found in the five houses.

According to federal regulations that went into effect in 1996, landlords selling or renting houses built before 1978 are required to notify incoming residents of the risk of lead exposure. They are also supposed to provide tenants information on the dangers of lead paint and keep records, signed by tenants, for three years showing that they have complied with the rules.

About 15 people, including at least one child, were living in the five houses on Essex and Rumford streets while the EPA carried out its investigation. Andrew Spejewski, spokesman for the EPA's New England office, said the agency received a tip from one of the Franklin Pierce tenants, and inspectors came to the school in March 2001 to check tenant records. He said the school cooperated fully and turned over the paperwork that proved they hadn't done the proper notification.

Children are especially susceptible to lead paint poisoning, which can cause damage to their developing central nervous systems in the most severe cases. It's less likely for a healthy adult to get sick from lead exposure, Spejewski said. "Adults are much less vulnerable. They don't tend to wander around, wipe their hands on the floor, then put them in their mouths," he said.

Spejewski said enforcing the 1996 lead paint notification law has become more of a priority for the EPA recently. In addition to the Franklin Pierce case, officials are also investigating a half-dozen other similar cases and has performed 80 inspections around New England. In fact, just this week, the EPA levied fines totaling $47,000 on two Manchester real estate agencies for neglecting to warn home-buyers and renters of the danger of lead paint exposure.

"The bottom-line message is everyone who has children needs to be aware of lead and the potential problems," Spejewski said. "And any real estate professional needs to know the rules of disclosure and needs to follow them."

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