Tribune-Review – Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday introduced an ordinance that it said would address lead exposure, and it also urged Pittsburgh Public Schools and utility companies to take action to reduce potential lead exposure.
“About 400 children each year in the region are found to have elevated blood lead levels,” Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said. “It’s about getting it to zero.”
She and other council members highlighted the dangers of lead in a message sent to Pittsburgh Public Schools and utility companies, urging them to take specific steps to decrease exposure to lead.
They urged public schools to install lead-capturing water filtration systems on every water fountain and sink in school buildings built before 2014 and implored utility companies to develop a plan to replace every service line made of lead within the city and to fund a system that would pay for replacing private lead water lines at no cost to homeowners.
From 2015 through 2019, 849 children in the city were confirmed to have lead poisoning, representing approximately 39% of all new cases in Allegheny County.
Even small amounts of lead in the blood can be harmful, especially to children, and cause symptoms including impaired memory, decreased academic performance and behavioral disorders. Lead poisoning can also lead to irreversible effects like permanent neurological and physiological damage in children and adults.
In adults, lead poisoning can trigger cardiovascular disease, adverse neurological effects, renal damage, thyroid hormone alterations and decreased fertility.
Strassburger said she hopes to reduce and, ultimately, completely eliminate lead exposure to city residents.
The message, shared during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, comes as Strassburger co-sponsored legislation to combat lead poisoning.
Dubbed the Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law, it aims to tackle four of the most common ways that people, particularly children, are exposed to lead.
“It’s a really good start to get at the dangers of lead exposure before it’s too late,” Strassburger said.
The proposed legislation calls for routine inspections of rental homes built before 1978. If lead is found during an inspection, it must be remedied and reinspected. The measure also would allow for renters and property owners to request a lead inspection.
Additionally, the legislation calls for all demolitions — both city-funded and private — to have permits that require a lead-safe work plan. Demolition sites would be inspected at least once. Contractors and firms working in spaces built before 1978 also would be required to prove they can complete their work in a lead-safe manner.
More than 85% of the city’s homes were built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned, Councilwoman Deb Gross said.
“Not surprisingly, paint is the leading cause of lead poisoning in our children,” she said.
Approved filters would be installed in all city-owned drinking and cooking facilities, and encouraged in schools and child-occupied spaces, according to the proposed legislation.
“This innovative ordinance adds another important facet to our city, protecting children from the lead hazards that exist in the places they live, learn and play,” Mayor Bill Peduto said.
Strassburger said she and other council members have been working on the plan, along with community partners, for about two years.
“There’s no better way to shine a light on the dangers of lead poisoning than to give our community solid strategies to prevent it,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment. “Four hundred children being poisoned by lead in our environment each year is 400 too many. In fact, one is too many.”
Council members Corey O’Connor, Gross and Bobby Wilson co-sponsored the bill with Strassburger.
“Lead poisoning disproportionately affects Black and brown children in the City of Pittsburgh,” said Wilson, whose district witnessed the highest number of lead poisoning cases. “These are our children, our neighbors and our future leaders. The Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law is designed to equitably help the most vulnerable people in our community.”