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Pittsburgh City Council passes lead safety bill aiming to curb potential lead exposure in children

Lead Paint

Tribune-Review – Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday adopted a lead safety ordinance that aims to prevent potential lead exposure for city residents, and children in particular.

The ordinance is one step in a larger effort to reduce the number of lead poisoning cases in Pittsburgh, said Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, who introduced the legislation in October.

From 2015 through 2019, 849 children in the city were confirmed to have lead poisoning, representing about 39% of all new cases in Allegheny County.

“One child with elevated lead levels in their body is one too many,” Strassburger said. “The passage of this important bill, the Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law, moves us closer to protecting all of Pittsburgh’s children and residents from lead poisoning.”

Even small amounts of lead in the blood can be harmful, especially for children, according to the ordinance. Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include impaired memory, decreased academic performance and behavioral disorders. In adults, lead poisoning can lead to cardiovascular disease, adverse neurological effects, renal damage, thyroid hormone alterations and decreased fertility.

The ordinance also pointed to irreversible effects like permanent neurological and physiological damage in both kids and adults.

“This is one of the most important bills we’ve done this year, if not in the last five years,” said Councilman Bobby Wilson, who co-sponsored the bill with Strassburger, and council members Corey O’Connor and Deb Gross.

The law aims to tackle the most common ways people are exposed to lead, focusing particularly on lead paint, which wasn’t banned until 1978.

The measure calls for routine inspections of rental homes built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978. If lead is found during an inspection, it must be remedied and the residence reinspected. About 80% of the city’s 70,000 rental units predate the ban on lead paint, according to Wilson.

The legislation will create a registry of child care facilities, which also will be required to be inspected for lead.

Renters and property owners can also request lead inspections.

The city has allocated $2 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to pay for inspections and other elements of the bill, Strassburger said.

The ordinance also calls for all demolitions to have permits that require a lead-safe work plan. Demolition sites would be inspected.

Contractors and firms working in spaces built before 1978 would be required to complete an eight-hour lead safety training, which would be free, according to Strassburger.

That element received pushback from Councilman Anthony Coghill, who is a general contractor himself. He said he didn’t feel such training would be effective and voiced concerns that such a lengthy time commitment would be burdensome on contractors.

He also noted that once a contractor completes the required training, there is no enforcement mechanism to check whether they actually apply the lead-safe practices taught in that course to their work.

Coghill said he’d like to see that measure removed from the ordinance or amended.

“The bill in general is too important not to vote for today,” Coghill said. “I just hope we can make a positive change with that one aspect.”

Strassburger and Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said they would be willing to consider potential changes.

Strassburger suggested breaking up the training course into several, shorter sessions, or offering the training during times when contractors weren’t likely working. She said it was meant to be an “enhancement” rather than a burden.

The ordinance — which has garnered support from local organizations like Women for a Healthy Environment, Clean Water Action and Get the Lead Out Pittsburgh — is just the first step, Strassburger said.

“I have a running list of about 10 next steps,” she said.

Among them are measures to ensure that sources of lead are more efficiently found and remedied before a child is diagnosed with lead poisoning, she said. Finding funding to help people who may not be able to easily afford lead repairs is another step.

Strassburger said council should continue focusing on ways to combat lead poisoning until cases reach zero.

“That’s really going to be the day when we can cheer,” she said.

Joy Braunstein, Western Pennsylvania policy and development director for Clean Water Action, called the measure “critical,” but said more needs to be done “to make sure all of Pittsburgh’s children are safe from lead.”

“We’ve seen this as the first step protecting Pittsburgh’s children from lead poisoning,” she said.

Council members have worked with community advocates on the legislation for about two years.

“We realize this is just the beginning, so we look forward to working with the city to both implement the Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law and develop accompanying regulations to strengthen it, until we’ve eliminated all the ways our children are exposed to lead,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment and a supporter of the Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh campaign.

Read the full story here.

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