Letters: Lead-paint law coverage just too thin

Posted: April 19, 2012

WHILE THE new lead-based-paint ordinance (Bill #100011) has been signed into law by Mayor Nutter, and takes effect Dec. 21, I think this piece of legislation has failed in trying to protect all children under age 6 from the hazards of lead-based paint.

The law states that landlords of targeted housing and residential properties that were built before March 1978 and where children age 6 and under will reside, must provide the tenant with a valid certification, prepared by a certified lead inspector, that the property is either lead-free or lead- safe. Dwelling units owned or subsidized by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) or its subsidiaries, or privately owned but currently leased under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), and therefore subject to federal requirements administrated by HUD, are excluded, along with dwelling units in which children age 6 and under do not and will not reside during the lease term.

PHA properties, as well as many other scattered-site homes, are in the high-risk category (properties built before 1960) in the city for lead-based-paint risks.

The PHA does not do a certified test per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations; it does do only a visual inspection for deteriorated paint surfaces during its Housing Quality Standards inspection (HQS), performed by in-house PHA inspectors. Unless these examiners have X-ray vision, like Superman, their walk-through inspection obviously doesn't measure up to a real X-ray lead analyzer. They cannot see if there is any lead dust on the paint surfaces or if the dust might contain lead. This assessment is drastically different from what the private sector is required to perform, with dust samples taken from paint surfaces within the unit and tested for lead contamination. The EPA states that dust-sample screening is a limited version of a risk assessment for properties that have very little chipping or flaking paint with a low chance of lead risks and would be more useful in properties built after 1960. For most of the homes in Philadelphia that were built 60 to 100 years ago, this screening is likely to be a waste of time and money, and the screening cannot conclude that there is no lead-based paint. The same guidelines need to be applied to all rental properties, since a certified report is much more comprehensive than the weaker nontests of the federal regulations mandated by HUD. There are only two methods recognized by the EPA for testing paint: portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers, and paint-chip sampling followed by analysis by a recognized EPA laboratory.

I think that day-care centers should have been covered in this statute. Children under the age of 6 may spend many hours in these facilities, just like being at home, and quite a few day-care centers are in residences. Preschools and kindergarten classrooms are other places that the city may want to confront for lead-based-paint dangers. The bill should have been written to protect all children under 6 in all rental units, even all units under the umbrella of PHA and with the most comprehensive tests that will identify where lead paint exists.

City Council must step up and amend or overturn the law so that the discriminatory practices are eliminated before the end of the year. Let's get it right and do it right. This is what would be in the best interest of young children in Philadelphia.

Christopher Artur

Philadelphia

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