Finally, a plan to fight lead paint

Action overdue: Governor and Baltimore's Mayor O'Malley must set high goal.

January 18, 2000

More than 7,000 Maryland children suffer some degree of lead paint poisoning every year -- and the damage is irreversible. Most of the victims are poor, inner city kids who are defenseless against an invader which burrows into bone and brain to work its destructive force for a lifetime.

Dedicated legislators like Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg and a cadre of others have worked for at least a decade to construct a regulatory, legal and financial shield for at-risk children. Political leaders and bureaucrats have failed to use it, however.

Finally, though, powerful forces say they want to act. A plan is promised. It must come forth quickly. More research should be resisted. No one who has looked at the available data questions the need to act.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley seem united in their response.

Mayor O'Malley wants $10 million to fund a campaign that would relocate families from hazardous rowhouses and clear the way for demolition of blighted blocks.

Currently, poisoned children are sometimes returned to the houses that poisoned them -- even more vulnerable to lead incursions because treatment lowers their resistance.

The mayor has ordered what he clearly hopes will be invigorating change in the enforcement areas -- long overdue as well. His swift action, coming so soon after his administration began, is encouraging.

But much remains to be addressed by City Hall and the governor. Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, says the cost of a comprehensive program could be as high as $80 million.

A comprehensive program would address these things:

Houses where kids are poisonedcurrently can be re-rented -- without lead abatement measures. That practice must be stopped.

Landlords must be forced to take advantage of $2,200 per house now available for lead abatement action -- before a poisoning occurs.

Landlords whose houses are not verifiably lead safe should be denied federal rent subsidies.

The National Center for Disease Control says primary prevention of lead paint poisoning would produce a $32 billion increase in productivity among American workers -- because youngsters saved from lead poisoning would add that much to the economy.

So there's a compelling bottom line argument, if saving kids from pain and incapacity were not argument enough. With a substantial budget surplus and more money rolling in from the big tobacco settlement, moreover, lead-poisoned children should have a fair shot at meaningful help this year.


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