U.S. EPA Wants to Fine Midwest Landlord $$$$ Over Lead Paint

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sat, 12/30/2006 - 15:38.

In a link on Brewed Fresh Daily today (which has really stepped up to create awareness about lead poisoning in our region), I found an interesting article on former Plain Dealer Cincinnati Reporter Bill Sloat's blog "The Daily Bellweather" titled "U.S. EPA Wants to Fine Midwest Landlord $$$$ Over Lead Paint", which illustrates one of the important steps essential to the eradication of lead poisoning in our region - ENFORCEMENT. In "The Daily Bellweather" report, regarding the EPA, we see "Earlier this month, the agency's Midwestern regional office moved to slap a $52,724 penalty on a landlord for failing to warn tenants and buyers that homes and apartments may contain health hazards from lead-based paint."

I believe there is one major, important inaccuracy in the EPA position quoted in this article, being that ''Peeling lead paint is the most common source of lead exposure to children in the United States", as I believe just as important is lead dust, such as is caused by lead painted windows opened and closed over time, and caused during routine maintenance around the home, then coating children's hands and toys with lead and then entering the children's mouths and bloodstreams. I point his out because at the Federal level there has been a tendency to legislate for industry, and the more the lead crisis can be viewed as one of poor maintenance of property by landlords vs. poor past business practices by industry, the better for industry fighting to justify their past business practices in court - the paint industry blames government for the lead crisis. Peeling paint could be blamed on poor maintenance and poor government regulation - lead dust caused by common use under normal practical circumstances is a public nuisance.

Thus, the EPA statement "When properly managed, lead based-paint poses little risk" is made to order for the paint industry, and deserves dispute. They should not be taking a position on the causes of lead poisoning but rather dealing with the public nuisance crisis at hand and allow courts to determine fault. The fact is lead is everywhere in our environment... the EPA regulated environment.

Fault is not just in the hands of the Feds, and the paint industry, but with local enforcement, as well. Earlier this year, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a special report finding their health department had historically failed to cite property owners for lead violations.

In Northeast Ohio, through the St. Luke's Foundation funded Greater Cleveland Lead Advisory Council (GCLAC), there has been formed a cross-organizational collaboration to address lead poisoning that focuses on five areas of action: Property and Environmental, Workforce Development, Medical, Outreach and Advocacy, and Infrastructure and Sustainability, and innovation of best practices and action are essential in all these areas... not just enforcement.

Cleveland building, housing and health departments, courts and county agencies, with the great support of the GCLAC collaboration, have made great progress with enforcement, which is providing powerful tools here to protect residents. But these enforcement efforts alone are far from enough to succeed with eradication of the harm od lead poisoning, which must involve local, regional, state and federal action. At the federal level, HUD, the Centers for Disease Control and EPA actions are all critical. 

As most pre-1978 housing in America is contaminated with lead, the costs of all these actions and efforts, and the costs of lead on society and our economy, are enormous. Recovering those costs, and finding funds to pay for the greater costs ahead,  is what cities and states are suing the paint industry about.

The issue of the litigation is the well known fact that the paint industry (and other industries) knew lead was dangerous for all of the 20th century, but continued to cover the Earth with lead, thus creating an avoidable public nuisance, until US Federal laws stopped them, in 1978.  In other nations, more enlightened government leaders outlawed lead much earlier... America was one of the last developed nations to break free of absolute corporate rule. It is safe to say there was criminal behavior behind the lead crisis, and hopefully over time enough evidence will surface that government and industry leaders may be prosecuted for their roles in this crisis.

We have barely seen the beginning of the court battles over who is to blame for this situation, and those battles must be fought. However, recent Ohio legislators' efforts to keep the battle from being fought in Ohio, by passing Substitute Bill 117, is a direct effort to be judge, jury and executioner of Ohio citizen rights, and to protect corporate interests. That does not eliminate the lead crisis but rather shifts all burden to taxpayers, without the right to due process.

No matter what, no amount of lead is safe in humans, and between lead paint in our environment, and the moronic historical use of lead in gasoline into the 1970s, and the continued emissions of lead from industry, we as a nation have en epidemic on our hands that is responsible for crime, criminal justice costs, medical costs, social costs, educational costs and lost competitiveness of our nation.

Considering that, Ohio legislators may try to let the paint companies off the hook, but society isn't off the hook on this and taxpayers will continue paying the price of the evil and foolishness of those legislators and other government officials and business decision makers who covered the Earth in lead - all Americans bear the burden of 1,000,000s lead poisoned now and of 1,000,000s of suboptimal lifetimes ahead. Therefore, the countries that are least effective in dealing with the lead crisis now will pay the highest price over time.