Group urges vigilance in lead poisoning fight

Governor's family gets test kit for their home

General Assembly

March 11, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The number of child lead poisoning cases has declined precipitously in Maryland in recent years, but residents of older homes must remain vigilant, the head of an advocacy and outreach group warned yesterday.

That's why Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, gave Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a home lead-testing kit yesterday, and said that he and first lady Kendel Ehrlich should use it inside Government House. The mansion was built in 1870, an era when paint containing lead was commonly used, and is now home to 4-year-old Drew Ehrlich and 6-day-old Joshua Ehrlich.

"We want to remind you: You live in an older house," Norton said during yesterday's meeting of the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes the governor.

The Ehrlichs are aware of the dangers of lead poisoning, an irreversible condition commonly caused by ingested paint chips, or dust or lead in water, state officials say. There is little indication that the Georgian-style country house is tainted, they say.

The mansion has new windows, said Mimi Calver, director of exhibits, outreach and artistic property with the State Archives office, eliminating the potential for lead dust created by opening and closing.

"The windows were completely replaced 10 years ago, and again last June," Calver said. "They were leaking, and the company that had originally installed them replaced them again."

About 10 years ago, the mansion's walls were sanded to plaster for repainting, said state Department of General Services chief Boyd K. Rutherford, removing another potential source of lead.

The Ehrlichs have overseen several projects making the mansion more child-friendly, Rutherford said.

In preparing a ground-level playroom for Drew last year, Kendel Ehrlich asked that paint be stripped from a wall to expose its brick. The paint was tested for lead, and results were negative, Rutherford said.

Like any parents living in aging properties, the Ehrlichs would do well to scrutinize their surroundings, said Norton, the coalition director.

"It takes the equivalent of three granules of sugar of lead dust to poison a child," said Norton, who appeared before the state Board of Public Works yesterday where her group's contract was renewed. "And once a child is poisoned, the impact and the effects are lifelong and irreversible."

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