February 29, 2008

Commentary:

Support the Children on March 11 on Groundbreaking Ordinance for Lead-Safe Homes

Help Stop Brain Damage in Children!

By Paige Newman
Communications Associate Environmental Health Coalition

You probably have seen many warnings in the news about lead in toys and lipsticks recently, but did you know lead poisoning also stems from paint and dust in your own home and is the number one environmental health hazard in the United States for children under six? The good news is that after a three-year delay, the City of San Diego is poised to pass what could be the best ordinance yet to prevent childhood lead poisoning in homes, potentially serving as a model for the rest of the country.

March 11, 2008 will be an important day for all San Diego children as the City Council will be debating approval of The Children’s Right to Lead-Safe Housing Ordinance.

Martha Cortez, a San Diego mother and homeowner, said “I hope the ordinance speaks to the heart of all the Councilmembers that represent us. It would protect our children and if we don’t have an ordinance, we can’t ask the property owners to repair lead hazards in homes built before 1978.”

The major provisions of The Children’s Right to Lead-Safe Housing Ordinance:

• Requires Prevention: Deteriorated lead-based paint will be a municipal code violation requiring increased inspections and repair to prevent the poisoning of children

• Protects ALL Children in Rental and Owner-Occupied Housing: Landlords and homeowners will be required to repair lead hazards

O When Housing is Sold (Point of Sale): House must be inspected, repairs made using lead-safe work practices and verified with a clearance

O When Housing is Rented (At Turnover): House must have visual inspection at each turnover and all lead hazards must be remedied

• Protect Workers: Establishes clear standards for handling lead in paint and bans unsafe work practices

• Increases Enforcement: Strengthens city authority to take direct enforcement when required

• Requires Blood Lead Test: All children must have their blood tested for lead before being enrolled in childcare facilities

• Requires Public Education: All home improvement and rental equipment stores must provide lead education materials

“Children should not be treated as lead detectors. We must focus on making homes lead-safe. Once children are exposed to lead, it is too late. That’s why Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) has worked on the lead ordinance since 2002 to make certain all children are protected,” said Leticia Ayala, Director of the Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Lead Poisoning at EHC.

Each year in the City of San Diego, over 8,500 homes built before 1978 are sold, and the new owners usually have no idea if their homes are lead-safe for their children or grandchildren. Old lead-based paint and dust are the main culprits. Old paint deteriorates into tiny particles invisible to the eye. This lead dust falls to the floor and soil — the most common method of child poisoning. Because children play on the floor with frequent hand to mouth contact, they are at risk for absorbing 50% of the lead they are exposed to.

Lead in small amounts kills brain cells, causes lower IQ, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and aggressive behavior. In high amounts, lead can cause swelling of the brain, coma and death.

To water down the ordinance, the City is promoting an alternative to the ordinance - excluding the Point of Sale clause, which would prevent over 8,500 families from lead protection each year. Currently, the law states that Real Estate Agents must notify buyers of potential lead hazards and give them 10 days to get a lead inspection. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring that a home be lead-safe at the point of sale.

The Point of Sale is reasonable and can be done at minimal costs, improving the overall quality of the community. The San Diego Association of Realtors argues that the Point of Sale impacts the ability of low-income families to purchase homes. In today’s City of San Diego market, when buyers and sellers enter negotiations over homes averaging $400,000-500,000, the cost of a lead inspection and/or clearance inspection certifying the home is lead-safe is not unreasonable. According to City documents, the average cost associated with ensuring the paint is in good condition is $700, and the filing fee with the City of San Diego is $40. Again, in today’s market, with fewer homes being sold, owners are already making sure that the paint is in good condition before putting it on the market, so this clause would definitely not burden sellers.

The good news is that childhood poisoning can easily be prevented with a few simple and usually inexpensive repairs. The solution is having paint in good condition, and using lead-safe work practices so that as you disturb the paint, you do not create an even bigger hazard. Following lead-safe work practices is not complicated.

For more information about lead-safe work practices, please call EHC at 619-474-0220 or visit HUD Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control website: www.hud.gov/offices/lead for a copy of the Lead Paint Safety Field Guide For Painting, Home Maintenance, and Renovation Work.

Some of the materials involved in using lead-safe work practices are very inexpensive. These include: duct tape, 6 mil poly, spray bottle, sanding block, HEPA vacuum (with a filter that meets the legal standard for lead and asbestos removal), a Swiffer sweeper, and N-100 respirators to avoid breathing particles.

One of the best ways to make your home lead-safe for your children and generations to come is to contact your San Diego City Council representative. Ask them to vote in support of the Children’s Right to Lead-Safe Housing Ordinance and join us at 2 PM on March 11 to urge the City Council to go the extra mile for our children.

“No child should be exposed to lead. It is a silent disease that continues to impact all children living in pre-1978 housing regardless of their income status, what neighborhood they live in, and whether or not it is a rental or owner-occupied house. We need the San Diego City Council to be the voice for ALL children and vote “Yes” on the Children’s Right to Lead-Safe Housing Ordinance,” said Ayala.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage