October 4, 2002 - City to Landlords: Make Buildings Unleaded
The city is delivering its "LAST" word to landlords dragging their feet in ridding their buildings of lead contamination from paint and other sources: "We'll see you in court." Mayor Street announced the creation of a special Lead Court to handle the backlog of 1,400 cases in which owners, who rent to families with children, have refused to get the lead out. The Lead Court is part of the Lead Abatement Strike Team, formed by Health Commissioner John Domzalski to aggressively respond to the problem of childhood lead poisoning.
Ingestion of dust from lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil has been linked to permanent learning disabilities, and behavioral and physical problems. It was banned in 1978, but the majority of Philadelphia homes predate the ban. Approximately 11 percent of the city's 110,000 children under age 6 have hazardous levels of lead in their blood. Another 800 are expected to be diagnosed this year. "One of our top initiatives is the total eradication of lead-poison hazards in homes," Street said yesterday, the start of National Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
The court can order abatement by the owner, or the city will do the cleanup and place a lien on the property. The court also can order tenants moved to other appropriate housing at the owner's expense until the lead is gone."What we are hoping will happen is that once we get a few cases through, that the landlords will give up and do what's right," Domzalski said.
In addition to the special court, Domzalski has added eight new lead-poisoning abatement crews, bringing the city's total to 11. Each team can handle about 50 houses a year at a cost of $1,000 to $5,000 a unit, he said. Street urged parents to have their children, especially those age 3 and under, tested for lead exposure every year. Expectant mothers should also take precautions to protect their unborn child from exposure.