Stricter lead-paint law brings advocates, opponents to Annapolis

Bill would require more testing of housing units rented to families with children

March 05, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Baltimore Sun reporter

Health advocates and landlords squared off Thursday in Annapolis over a proposal to beef up Maryland's lead-paint law, which both sides agree has succeeded in drastically reducing the number of young children poisoned in older rental homes.

Advocates, pediatricians and health officials urged the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to approve a bill that would require landlords to test for lead dust in rental units built before 1950 if they are to be occupied by families with children.

The number of children poisoned annually by ingesting toxic lead-paint chips or dust has declined by 95 percent since 1995, when more than 14,000 youngsters statewide were found to have elevated levels of the toxic substance in their blood. Advocates and landlords credit a 1994 state law requiring owners of pre-1950 rental housing to take steps to reduce the risks in their properties, such as painting, cleaning and covering certain lead-painted surfaces.

Yet in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 700 children were poisoned in Maryland - 468 of them in Baltimore City, which has a large stock of older rental housing. Advocates contend the number could be further reduced by matching the testing already required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for any federally subsidized apartment.

Under current law, landlords may certify their units are free of risk by having them tested for lead-paint dust, or by having them visually inspected. The visual checks are inadequate, lawmakers were told - 21 poisoning cases in Baltimore in 2007 were in rental units that had been declared risk-free after being eyeballed, according to Madeleine Shea, assistant city health commissioner.

But landlords argued that while nearly three-quarters do dust-testing, the bill would force them to make added repairs and upgrades - as much as $1,000 a unit, according to a legislative fiscal analysis. Collectively, the measure could cost the state's landlords millions of dollars, said Robert Enten, a Property Owners Association of Maryland lobbyist.

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