Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

February 22, 2005

Lead plan curbs city's ability to enforce the law

While The Sun's support for continued funding of the city's lead enforcement efforts is appreciated, an explanation of why this funding is so imperative is needed ("Getting the lead out," editorial, Feb. 18).

Contrary to the pronouncements of representatives of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), that state agency simply does not have the authority to unilaterally pursue all owners of lead-infested property, nor does it have the ability to require as strict penalties for noncompliant landlords as the city does.

Only Baltimore's Health Department can take enforcement action when a child is poisoned in an owner-occupied property. MDE cannot.

This point is very important, because more than half of all occupied properties in the city are owner-occupied, and a full third of all the city's lead enforcement actions are against owners of these properties.

If the funding for the city's enforcement efforts were eliminated, as proposed in the governor's budget, no action could be taken by MDE on these properties, and this would consign children poisoned by lead in those properties to life-altering neurological deficits.

The city also can often impose stricter penalties, which result in safer housing.

When a "notice of violation" is issued by MDE, the maximum penalty it can impose on the landlord is "risk reduction" - a combination of cleaning, paint stripping and other remedial actions. In contrast, when the city issues a violation notice to landlords or owners, the city can, and usually does, take the individual to court.

To date, the city has yet to lose a case, successfully settling for either full abatements or window and door replacements, thus eliminating much of the source of lead dust and making the property much safer for the children.

For the five years of the Mayor's Lead Initiative, MDE and the city have worked collaboratively through a process called "LeadStat" - in which, among other things, we parcel out enforcement actions to the agency best able to pursue a case.

Considering that the number of lead-poisoned kids in the city has dropped a phenomenal 85 percent in that time, there is absolutely no reason for the governor to eliminate one of the two prongs of the system that has helped to achieve these remarkable reductions.

His penny-wise but pound-foolish cuts will almost certainly result in hundreds more of our city's children being unnecessarily poisoned by lead each year, resulting in more kids affected with learning disabilities and violent behavior.

Dr. Peter Beilenson

Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore's health commissioner.

Ehrlich's bill leaves kids less protected

While I concur with The Sun that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s budget cuts to the Baltimore City lead poisoning enforcement effort are stunningly short-sighted, I take issue with the claim that otherwise, the governor's lead poisoning initiative is "on balance, a step forward for at-risk children" ("Getting the lead out," editorial, Feb. 18)

The governor has put forward legislation that is riddled with loopholes and rollbacks in protection for children and would put additional children at risk of poisoning.

Meanwhile, the central benefit the Ehrlich administration touts for its bill - that it lowers the level of lead in a child's bloodstream that triggers action under Maryland law - ignores the science about what that level should be.

As a result, the governor's legislation would leave thousands of children diagnosed with damaging levels of lead poisoning but with no protections under the state law.

Terry J. Harris

Baltimore

Cleaning airwaves rather than the air?

What a relief that our representatives are occupying themselves with the important business of broadcast decency standards ("House moves to clean up airwaves," Feb. 17) instead of wasting time on frivolous matters, such as the Kyoto treaty on global warming and the reduction of petroleum consumption, that are taking up governments' time in the rest of the civilized world.

Of course, consumption of broadcast materials is still voluntary. Breathing is not.

Leslie Starr

Baltimore

Celibacy isn't cause of sexual abuse

Although I share Dan Rodricks' extreme distaste for the sickening sexual abuse of children, I must take extreme issue with his demand that for priests within the Catholic church, "celibacy must go" ("Clergy sex scandal: another descent into the cesspool," Feb. 17).

The celibacy of the priesthood is a basic tenet of Catholic dogma.

Would Mr. Rodricks also make the claim that adherence to Jewish kosher dietary restrictions must also go, since they are an "unrealistic demand"? Or that Muslims facing Mecca during prayer is unrealistic?

Mr. Rodricks seems to believe celibacy was the root cause for sexual abuse cases. I think the priests who have abused children would have done so whether they were sworn to celibacy or not.

Celibacy did not turn these priests into abusers.

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