Until yesterday, the neon-green sticker slapped on the front of 705 E. 21st St. had been a constant reminder to the rowhouse's owner: If you don't remove the lead paint from this property, it said, no one can live here.
But Flossie Dean, the owner and landlord, didn't have the thousands of dollars needed to clean the house, so it remained vacant for 15 months.
Then Dean applied for a grant from a $12.9 million aid package promised last year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Yesterday, Dean became the first homeowner to receive a grant, worth $8,500, that is part of the city's expanding campaign against lead paint.
The state grant funds, combined with $12 million in city funds, are aimed at eradicating lead paint from 350 houses in each of the next three years, in addition to 295 homes scheduled for lead abatement this year.
"We will not eliminate lead poisoning today," Mayor Martin O'Malley said at a news conference, flanked outside Dean's rowhouse by city and state officials. "But little by little, day by day, we're abating, we're demolishing, we're prosecuting and we're eradicating lead-paint poisoning."
Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said she hopes Baltimore's grant program will become a model for other cities in which lead dust and paint chips cause brain damage in children.
"We will increase [children's] capacity to learn," she said. "We will increase their capacity to become productive citizens."
Yesterday's announcement was made as other lead-paint initiatives are getting started.
Taking effect Monday will be a 1996 law that requires landlords to register houses built before 1950 with the state Department of the Environment and to rid their properties of lead paint or face daily fines.
The city Health Department is hiring seven "environmental sanitarians" to conduct lead inspections and will hire two lawyers to prosecute lead cases. At the same time, the city is conducting blood tests for 1- and 2-year-olds with a goal of testing 75 percent of them by 2003.
Meanwhile, the city has filed 127 cases in the past year against landlords who have failed to resolve lead violations. And the city has demolished nearly 500 lead-affected properties, many of them in the neighborhood around Dean's rowhouse.
The block has had a history of lead poisoning. At least six children have been poisoned in the 700 block of E. 21st St. since 1978, according to Health Department records. More than a dozen houses on the block are boarded up. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, craters are all that remain of lead-infested houses the city has demolished.
Such neighborhoods have made Baltimore one of the nation's most toxic cities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Baltimore's children are poisoned by lead paint at 15 times the national average.
Lead paint, once ingested, can cause irreversible brain damage by preventing the absorption of iron, calcium and other minerals essential for proper development of the nervous system.
O'Malley called the recent joint efforts by the city and state "the most serious effort we've undertaken." But he added, "Lead paint poisoning continues to plague too many of our children."
An average of more than 1,200 children have been poisoned by lead each year in the past decade. Most of them are black and from low-income families living in rental properties.