Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – With a focus on the city’s children, four Pittsburgh Council members Tuesday introduced an ordinance aimed at tackling lead poisoning that can happen when children live or go to day care in older housing and building stock, or drink water from fountains with lead pipes.
The legislation would give city residents — whether owners or renters — access to lead paint and dust testing completed by the city and rights to remediation.
“As a mother now myself, I know how hard parents work to keep their kids safe, and I can only imagine how devastating it would be to learn that places that should feel safest, that are home, your child care center, your child’s school, is actually poisoning your child,” said Erika Strassburger, one of the bill’s sponsors.
An estimated 400 children in Pittsburgh are diagnosed each year with lead poisoning, according to the Get the Lead Out Pittsburgh, a public awareness campaign that has been working on the legislation with council members for two years.
“We know that this causes cognitive and behavioral problems with our children. It impacts their ability to learn. These are our children, these are our neighbors’ children, these are our future leaders of the city of Pittsburgh,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment and supporter of the campaign.
Elevated lead levels in a child’s bloodstream — they way poisoning is detected — can affect almost every organ system in the body, and can lead to lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which recognizes the last week in October as National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
In rare cases, the ingestion of lead can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the agency. Children six and under are most vulnerable, as are fetuses which can be exposed to lead when calcium is transferred from the pregnant person’s body during fetal growth. Lead is accumulated in bodies over time and can be stored in an adult’s bones. The exposure can lead to premature birth and hurt the baby’s organ development, according to the agency.
“Children are experiencing lead poisoning at an unacceptable level in the city of Pittsburgh,” said Councilwoman Deb Gross, also a sponsor of the legislation. “… This ordinance is going to start us down that path of making sure that you can live lead free and lead safe.”
The proposed ordinance in Pittsburgh would allow city inspectors to perform lead tests in any resident or “child-occupied facility” built before 1978 — the year lead paint was outlawed — upon request or during routine inspections. If the presence of lead is found, the property owner would be required to remediate the issue and be subject to re-inspections.
Additionally, the ordinance would require contractors to obtain permits and follow special procedures when demolishing or renovating any pre-1978 residential, commercial or publicly owned structures.
The proposal also would affect some public buildings where children drink or use water. The legislation requires approved lead-capturing filters to be installed on water fountains and sink faucets in any pre-1986 building owned or leased by the city or that receives city funding for housing or a child-occupied facility. Lead pipes were banned in the U.S. in 1986, but those already underground remained.
Councilman Bobby Wilson, who represents several of the city’s North Side neighborhoods, said he worries about the amount of children in his district who have been exposed to lead, and he noted that he and his wife were concerned about each of their three children after they received lead blood tests.
“Every time we waited for that test to come back, we worried because we knew we lived in a house that was a hundred years old,” said Mr. Wilson, who lives in Spring Hill and is another sponsor of the bill.
Councilman Corey O’Connor, the fourth sponsor, was absent from the press conference on the City-County Building’s portico because he is out on parental leave following the birth of his first child. A staffer delivered his comments of support.
The new regulations, if passed, would be supported with $2 million from the city’s federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to council members.
The bill has the support of Mayor Bill Peduto.