A Baltimore painting contractor was given probation before judgment in city Circuit Court today in the first criminal prosecution of anyone for improperly removing hazardous lead-based paint from a home.
Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe ordered Mark A. Crosby Inc. to perform $2,000 worth of free painting as community service for violating state lead paint abatement regulations when the contracting firm repainted a Cedarcroft home in the summer of 1990.
But Bothe rejected arguments by the prosecutor that the court should convict the firm to "send a signal" that the state is serious about enforcing rules requiring safe removal or covering over of lead-based paint.
Bernard A. Penner, assistant attorney general in the state's environmental crimes unit, said that Crosby had been prosecuted in part because many contractors were not heeding the regulations, despite stepped-up civil penalties levied by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Two members of the painting crew became poisoned by lead, as did the young child of one of the painters and a dog owned by the homeowners, Penner said.
The judge, however, said the attorney general's office ought to be going after "slumlords" instead of bringing its first prosecution in a case involving a "fancy home and a $10,000 paint job."
The biggest source of lead exposure for young children is dust they swallow from deteriorating lead-based paint in or on their homes. But even well-maintained older homes may pose a hazard for children, officials say, if renovation or even repainting is done without precautions against stirring up lead-paint dust.
In a plea agreement, the state pursued only one count, accusing the firm of failing to clean up lead paint dust and chips.