Lead found in Pratt house Comptroller, partners failed to register, fix property, records show

September 04, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler and Eric Siegel | Timothy B. Wheeler and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Articles in the Sept. 4 and 5 editions reported incorrectly the penalty for failing to register rental properties built before 1950 under Maryland's lead poisoning prevention. The penalty is $10 per day per unit.

The Sun regrets the errors.

A 3-year-old girl living in a Northwest Baltimore house owned by City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and two partners has lead poisoning, and an inspection by the clinic treating the child found high levels of hazardous lead dust in a window well of the second-story apartment.

Pratt and her partners failed to register the property at 2909 Garrison Blvd. and fix it up as required under Maryland's lead-poisoning prevention law, which took effect in February, according to records and interviews.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

This is the second lead poisoning of a child living in the house, which also goes by the address of 3511 Powhatan Ave.

In the most recent case, Ariel McClain, 3, moved into the house with her family in April. A test two months later found an elevated level of lead in her bloodstream -- 20 micrograms per deciliter, twice the level considered a health problem under federal guidelines.

Health experts say even tiny doses of lead can cause subtle brain damage in young children, which can lead to learning disabilities years later.

A subsequent test a month ago found that the child's lead level had increased during the summer to 35 micrograms, according to a medical report made available yesterday by her attorney. The child is being treated at Kennedy Krieger Institute and has been sent to live with grandparents, according to the family's attorney, Ron Richardson, who is with the law firm of Peter G. Angelos. The amount of lead in her blood had declined, but was still elevated at 20 micrograms when tested last week.

Pratt said yesterday that she received notification from Kennedy Krieger last month that the McClain apartment had elevated levels of lead dust. An inspection by the institute found 33,193 micrograms of lead per square foot in a window well, far above the 800-microgram safety threshold set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"When we found out that there was a possibility of lead in the house," the comptroller said, "we asked the tenant to remove the child so there would be no further damage done." She added, "The property will be tested. If there is lead, it will be abated."

Three years ago, another child became poisoned while living in the first-floor apartment, and the Baltimore Health Department cited Pratt and her partners for violating the city's lead-paint ordinance. The downstairs apartment was repaired and declared safe by the city in May 1994. The health department plans to inspect the McClain apartment Tuesday.

In 1984, Pratt and partners Margaret Smith and Michael Middleton bought the house, built in 1920, for $17,000. It recently was assessed at $34,650. Kevin and Anna McClain, Ariel's parents, signed a lease in April to rent the second-floor apartment for $350 per month.

A new state lead poisoning prevention law, which took effect Feb. 24, requires owners of all rental properties built before 1950 to register them with the Maryland Department of the Environment. Landlords must test their units for lead dust, or perform "risk reduction" work, which includes removing peeling, chipping or flaking paint and cleaning with special detergent and vacuum equipment.

The comptroller blamed the failure to register the property an "oversight" and said the forms were completed yesterday. Pratt said she handled the accounting for the partnership, while Smith oversaw the property.

The director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, however, said that Pratt and her partners should have known they needed to register the property and fix it before renting to new tenants. Ruth Ann Norton, the coalition director, said Ariel might not have been poisoned if Pratt and her partners had registered the property and done the required risk reduction before the family moved in.

When the law was passed two years ago, the state mailed letters to more than 100,000 property owners, including the partnership that includes Pratt, according to a spokesman for the environmental agency. The law did not actually take effect until this year, when the state adopted regulations to carry it out.

Property owners who fail to register may be fined $10 per day, up to $900 per year, for each apartment not listed with the state.

It is uncertain how or where the McClain child was exposed to lead. Deteriorating lead paint, used in older housing, is believed to be the main source of poisoning, but the heavy metal also is found in drinking water and topsoil.

Smith was emphatic that the child did not get her elevated blood levels in the house.

According to Pratt's required city financial disclosure forms and city property records, the property is one of two she owns jointly with Smith. The other is in the 200 block of Roslyn Ave.

Pratt also continues to be listed in city property records as the co-owner of several rental properties with Julius Henson, a close friend and business partner whom she named to head the city's real estate office in March and then forced to resign after three weeks of controversy over his appointment. Pratt has said she sold her interests in the properties to Henson during her campaign last year.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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