County fails to enforce lead paint code, woman says NORTH -- Manchester * hampstead * Lineboro

June 16, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

A former Hampstead resident is battling the county over enforcement of the lead paint section of Carroll's rental housing code.

The Carroll County Board of Housing Review met for the first time yesterday to hear the complaint lodged by Pamela Pegram. She said the county's Bureau of Permits and Inspections should have ordered -- not recommended -- that her former landlord eliminate a lead paint hazard from the house he rented to her family.

The bureau does not require lead paint violations to be abated unless high levels of lead are found in a tenant's blood, bureau chief Ralph E. Green said yesterday.

"My child is not going to be used as a lead detector," Mrs. Pegram declared during the hearing.

Lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, learning disabilities, hearing loss and other health problems. Poisoning can result from lead in drinking water or from lead paint ingested as dust or chips.

In March, Mrs. Pegram and her son Julian, then 15 months old, were found not to have elevated lead levels in their blood. But lead was found in paint inside and outside the home.

Mr. Green acknowledged there was a lead-based paint violation of the county livability code in the Pegrams' rented house, but he said, "The presence of lead-based paint does not necessarily constitute a health hazard."

He said his bureau defers to the county Health Department on what constitutes a lead paint hazard.

The Health Department does not call for abatement of a lead violation unless a rental occupant has a high level of lead in the blood. A person is considered poisoned if the level of lead in the blood reaches 20 milligrams per decaliter, said Tiffany Crone, the department's director of community hygiene. A consistent reading of 15 mg or more is cause for concern, she said, and would call for abatement.

Mrs. Pegram and her husband, Wallace, rented the house at 900 Houcksville Road in Hampstead from Feb. 3 to April 26.

The home's owners, Thomas P. Kenney and Anne Kenney, declined to comment on the issue.

When a Carroll County housing inspector visited the house iMarch, Mrs. Pegram said, he recommended testing for lead paint.

Mrs. Pegram paid a private company to test the house. Lead paint was found on indoor trim and on much of the exterior of the house.

Another company tested the drinking water for lead, and found it in water taken from a bathroom tap. The county Health Department tested water from the kitchen tap and found no lead contamination.

Mr. Green wrote to the Kenneys on April 6, telling them to fix certain other code violations, such as windows that were sealed shut. He specified time limits for those changes to be made.

His letter recommended painting over the lead-based paint to encapsulate it. No deadline for the work was set, but he told the Kenneys they would have to submit a timetable.

Mrs. Pegram said the county should have required the Kenneys to correct the lead paint problem along with the other violations:

"We have a lead-based paint violation. We proved it, and then the county didn't enforce its code."

Michael Maring, a deputy code official, said the Kenneys have agreed to follow the county's recommendations for lead abatement. He said they will not be allowed to rent the home again until it has been inspected and the code violations are eliminated.

At yesterday's hearing, there was confusion over the livability code's language on lead violations.

Board member Geoffrey S. Black said there seemed to be two ways of interpreting the livability code: that enforcement is discretionary, or that enforcement is mandatory.

According to section 301 of the code, county officials are authorized to enforce the code on a discretionary basis, depending on what they determine to be a health hazard.

But section 400 says, "All premises shall be kept free from lead-

based paint violations."

Mr. Green said he interprets the code as saying there is a violation if lead paint is present "and/or" other factors are present, such as the paint being chipped or flaked, or within the reach of children.

Gregory Keller, the livability code coordinator and one of the code's authors, said the intent of the code is that the mere presence of lead paint constitutes a violation, but it may not be subject to mandatory abatement.

"If we can't even figure out what it means," said Mrs. Pegram, "how can anybody else?"

J. Michael Evans, the county director of general services, whose department includes the Bureau of Permits and Inspections, said, "It's very difficult to enforce when you're dealing with shadows."

He said Carroll County is still waiting for the state legislature to spell out the circumstances in which lead-based paint hazards must be abated.

Currently, Mr. Evans said, lead abatement is required for rental units occupied by people who get aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lead-based paint is not uncommon in homes more than 20 years old, he said.

It is possible that the county's livability code will be changed to eliminate the lead-based paint violation section, Mr. Evans said.

He said that would not eliminate the lead-based paint problem.

Mrs. Pegram said she and her husband were worried enough by presence of the lead paint that they sent her son to his grandparents in North Carolina for a couple of weeks to minimize his exposure.

The Pegrams now live in Hanover, Anne Arundel County.

The Board of Housing Review has 30 days to issue its written opinion in the matter.

Mr. Black said yesterday he hopes the opinion will be ready in one or two weeks.

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