(PHILADELPHIA) March 19, 2019 – Today, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown (At-Large) and the Committee on Public Health and Human Services held a hearing on bills to protect children from the harms of lead exposure and poisoning. The bills were originally introduced on October 25, 2018, as part of a package to continue to address the issue of lead poisoning prevention in our City. Councilwoman Blondell Reynold Brown stated, “My legislation only affects properties built before 1978, where the lead hazard continues to exist. These bills were crafted after more than 18 months of discussion and deliberation, coupled with consultation with a wide cross-section of stakeholders.”
Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones Sanchez (7th District) stated, “I am proud to support comprehensive lead safety reform to keep families safe and healthy in their homes. Over the past 18 months, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has yet again put people first by leading an engaged and deliberate conversation about lead exposure.”
Councilwoman Helen Gym (At Large) stated, “As Chair of City Council’s Committee on Children and Youth, I was proud to cast my vote today in favor of Philadelphia’s youngest children. Lead poisoning may not dominate our headlines, but in Philadelphia, children are being poisoned by lead at a rate that is higher than children currently living in Flint, Michigan. This bill is a major step towards ending discrimination against families and ensuring the homes they rent are safe.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, lead poisoning is a medical condition that occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause damage over time, especially in children. The greatest risk is to brain development, where irreversible damage can occur.
Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens stated, “primary prevention is the only way to reduce the neurocognitive effects of lead poisoning. The effects from lead poisoning are irreversible. So, the time to act is now.”
The first bill (#180936) updates the current Philadelphia law on lead certification in rental properties. The majority of issues related to lead poisoning in children comes from lead in paint, and lead in residential homes where children under 6 spend most of their time. Erica Miller, mother of twins, Michah and My’ell who are suffering from lead poisoning stated, “My twins are now three and they are not doing things some of my older children did at this age. What I know is that it is a routine part of a well child visit for my doctor to test my children’s blood for lead, but it is not routine for the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to test their properties for lead-the very place that poisoned my children.”
Despite its best efforts, the Health Department and Departments of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) are not receiving nearly enough certifications. The health department predicts that children six and under reside in approximately 22,000 rental properties in the City of Philadelphia at any one time, although we know many families move frequently from year to year. After six and a half years of implementation, the department has only 5,776 unexpired certifications, which equates to a 25 percent compliance rate in six years. Tom Farley, Commissioner, Philadelphia Department of Public Health stated, “According to a recent health department survey of families with children poisoned by lead, 38 percent of children with significantly elevated lead levels have a secondary address where they spend time. We need to make sure we have a solution for that dimension of this problem as well.”
The bill includes an adjustment period that will facilitate a smooth transition for both landlords and the administration. The expiration date of a certification has been extended from two years to three years. The proposed legislation will include landlord rights to enter the property for inspection.
In 2006, because more than 1600 of their children per year were being poisoned by lead, Rochester, New York created a Lead Poisoning Prevention Ordinance that required landlords and investors to remediate deteriorating paint in their units. As a result, there are now less than 100 children being poisoned by lead. Leonard Merritt, Lead Paint Program Coordinator, City of Rochester stated, “The cost for remediation of deteriorating paint, in my experience, has been relatively low. Scraping and removing deteriorated paint is an activity that can be accomplished safely and effectively.” When doing this the tenants do not have to relocate. Prohibiting them from the work area and containing the work area are the minimum requirements. Ruth Ann Norton from Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, also testified to the success of a comprehensive lead poisoning ordinance in Baltimore, Maryland.
Further, the second bill (#180937) requires physicians to test children for elevated blood levels twice before they reach the age of 30 months. Other cities have already adopted this medical practice. There are 16 zip codes in Philadelphia, covering nine out of ten Councilmatic districts, where more than 10 percent of children screened have elevated blood levels. In Philadelphia, 24 percent of children are not tested for lead before the age of two. A whopping 72 percent of children are not tested twice as the Health Department recommends.
Lastly, the third bill (#180938) requires lead safe certification for certain renovation projects on City-owned or occupied buildings prior to the completion of the renovation project. Councilwoman Reynolds Brown stated,
“Philadelphia must lead by example. When our city undertakes a major renovation of a building regularly used by the public, we must certify that the new space is free or safe from lead contamination. We look forward to working with the Department of Public Property to make this happen.”
Lead exposure during childhood is medically dangerous and can result in health and behavioral complications for children who are exposed to dangerous amounts of lead. These bills reflect another effort towards a more comprehensive approach with shared responsibilities for all stakeholders.
Watch the hearing: