ANNAPOLIS -- Stymied by industry opposition, a Maryland House committee yesterday scuttled a proposal to charge paint manufacturers for the cost of dealing with lead paint poisoning in favor of a study of the problem.
A series of amendments transformed the measure into yet another study of what has been called the number one environmental threat to the health of children. The study would be monitored by a 15-member commission that would also recommend a way to pay for the treatment of lead paint victims.
Even small amounts of lead in the bloodstream can lead to reduced intelligence, behavioral problems and even death -- but, so far, the General Assembly has been unable to find a treatment and paint removal scheme that legislators believe is safe, fair and realistic.
This year's proposal would have assessed costs to the paint manufacturers. But it stirred enough opposition potentially to doom action this year, according to Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-Howard, a prime sponsor of the original bill.
Instead of marking time for another year, she said, advocates rewrote it and won support for it from the landlords who frequently oppose such legislation. This year the bill's primary opponents were paint manufacturers and retailers.
The commission's study would be paid for by a $5-per-unit fee charged to the owners of rental houses and apartments built before 1978. Landlords with fewer than four units would be exempted.
The one-time-only fee would pay for a study designed to determine how much lead poisoning exists in Maryland, the cost of compensating victims and the cost of treatment.
"I feel good that we'll be able to take a definitive, progressive first step," said Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Baltimore County, who worked out many of the saving amendments.
With the prospect of the bill dying outright, the amended bill was regarded as a victory by the advocates for children.
Weighed against the prospect of another abject failure, the bill represents a step toward "getting kids out of lead paint-lined houses into lead free environments before even more damage is done," said John B. Neil, who represents several organizations working on the problem of childhood lead poisoning.
In many cases, children with lead poisoning have been sent back into houses where the lead hazard has not been removed -- because their parents can't find or afford lead free housing. Landlords have argued that they would take their houses off the market or be driven out of business were they required to pay for lead abatement.