Philly summit tackles childhood lead poisoning

Lead-based paint is one of the leading causes of lead exposure among children. (AP Photo)

Lead-based paint is one of the leading causes of lead exposure among children. (AP Photo)

City officials and advocates for children’s health gathered Friday at a conference aimed at helping Philadelphia advance measures to reduce lead exposure in homes.

The city made new recommendations this summer to strengthen the Lead Paint Disclosure law, and leaders at the Philly Lead Summit are joining forces with government to help implement them.

The recommendations include expanding the city’s law to require all landlords who rent homes built before 1978 to certify the homes are safe from lead.  Right now, the law only applies to homes where children under six years old are living. Lead paint in homes built before the 1978 federal ban is the main source of lead poisoning for children in Philadelphia.

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said expanding the lead paint disclosure law would make it easier to enforce because it’s hard to identify all the homes where small children are living.

“The good news is the lead levels in children in Philadelphia are lower than they’ve ever been,” Farley said. “The bad news is there’s still too many children who get lead levels that are too high.”

In 2016, 342 children under six years old in the city were found to have levels of lead in their blood greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the threshold that triggers inspections by the department of health to intervene. That’s down from 876 in 2007. But 1,310 more children last year had levels above 5 micrograms, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking action.

The Philly Lead Summit was organized by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and brought in speakers from across the country to share ideas for how to make more homes lead free in Philadelphia.

Donna Cooper, the organization’s executive director, said another reason she and other advocates want to expand the scope of the disclosure law is the fear that landlords could begin discriminating against families with small children if enforcement of the current law gets tougher.

Making all rental properties built before 1978 subject to the law would avoid the possible “unintended consequence of reducing the availability of rental housing for families with children,” Cooper said.

Speakers at the summit also discussed ideas for encouraging landlords to comply with the lead prevention laws. Farley said that in Philadelphia, many landlords don’t have the financial resources to clean up lead-contaminated homes.

“We’re also seeking potential sources of funding to help landlords remediate properties that have peeling paint,” Farley said.

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