The unchecked lead epidemic

Resource gap: The city and state must keep promises of preventive and transition measures.

September 13, 2000

BALTIMORE'S history of coping with the scourge of lead paint poisoning remains lamentable -- and heroic.

Despite recent promises, almost nothing is being done to provide safe, temporary housing for families found to live in lead-filled homes, or to aid in the removal of lead after it is found.

State and city funds committed to those efforts have not been released.

So, the Baltimore-based crusade continues.

In Dr. J. Julian Chisholm, now 79, the city has one of the nation's leading authorities on this debilitating environmental threat.

In Ruth Ann Norton, head of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, it has a passionate advocate for families trapped in the crippling fog of lead dust. The lawyer and activist Clinton Bamberger and the legislator Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg have been on the case even longer.

And still, as Jim Haner's story in Sunday's Sun makes clear, the problem remains virtually untouched, and promises by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Martin O'Malley remain unfulfilled.

Action is needed now. Almost none of the $50 million or so slated for temporary housing has been released.

Thus when hazardous conditions are detected, families can face the prospect of remaining in a house that emits poisonous dust.

Mr. Haner's article shows again how imprisoning lead paint can be. It can be tolerated or transmitted by careless landlords -- even by well-meaning landowners who have failed to learn proper methods of lead abatement. Parents can do similarly unwitting damage during home repair projects. Pregnant women, if infected themselves, can pass along the poison to their fetuses.

Prevention remains the only cure -- and Baltimore's health department has been working on some creative approaches. Some money has been provided via the city's empowerment zone program.

But public authorities have yet to earn the bows they took last winter for committing themselves to addressing this monumental problem.

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