Web site aims to prevent lead poisoning

City provides information on whether properties comply with state law

April 16, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

In Baltimore, where the lead poisoning rate is more than four times the national percentage, officials plan to launch a new attack against the problem today: a Web site.

By clicking on LeadSafe Homes.info, parents will be able to learn whether properties have been inspected for lead, meet Maryland lead law standards or have been abated -- a move that could significantly reduce the number of city children poisoned each year by lead.

"It's innovative, and it's a tool to ensure that people are buying healthy homes," Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said yesterday of the Web site. "The bottom line is when people look for housing, ... to find out if it's lead safe, this makes it easier for them."

Baltimore is among three major cities that will provide information on the Web site, with Boston and Chicago expected to launch theirs next month, said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, based in Columbia.

Other cities have registries that provide lists of lead-safe housing or properties where violations have occurred, but this is believed to be the first interactive site, Morley said.

A national survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted in 1999 and 2000 showed that 2.2 percent, 434,000 children, had elevated lead levels, Morley said.

Baltimore, Chicago and Boston were chosen to offer the Web site primarily because of problems with lead in those cities, she added.

A survey conducted in 2001 by Chicago health officials showed potentially hazardous lead levels in 11 percent of the children tested. A similar survey in Baltimore showed high lead levels for 9.5 percent of the children tested -- four times higher than the national figure. And in Boston, 4.58 percent of the children monitored had elevated lead levels.

Exposure to lead can cause serious health problems in children, affecting their brains, kidneys and other organs. Lead poisoning can also cause learning and behavioral problems.

Maryland's lead laws require owners of rental properties constructed before 1950 to reduce lead hazards. For the past four years, city officials have been cracking down on landlords who violate the laws. Last month, a Landover Hills man was sentenced to 10 days in jail after he ignored numerous orders to remove lead from a house in the 2200 block of Roslyn Ave. in West Baltimore.

The Web site will be an "incredibly useful tool for community organizations that serve the public and help people find housing," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

But Norton said Baltimore's site has a shortcoming: While it shows detailed maps of city streets, it does not allow users to look up specific addresses to find out whether violations have occurred there.

"If you go to look for a unit and you're renting and you've got two kids, wouldn't you want to know whether there'd ever been a violation and whether it had been cleaned up?" she said. "We're hoping we can work with the health department to get that disclosed over time."

Still, Norton is excited about the site.

"What is so fabulous about this is that you'll be able to go online and find out whether a unit is in compliance with Maryland law," Norton said.

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