State steps up effort to reduce lead exposure in children

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(Host) The state announced plans today to step up efforts to reduce the incidence of lead exposure in young children.

Officials say they’ll move to crack down on rental property owners who don’t comply with lead abatement rules.

They also announced that the threshold at which lead is considered a health hazard is being lowered.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Overnight, the number of one and two-year old Vermonters considered to suffer from lead poisoning has increased tenfold.

That’s because state officials Thursday lowered by half the threshold at which lead is considered a health risk in children – giving Vermont the lowest benchmark in the nation.

Two years ago, parents of 300 children who were tested for lead levels were informed that their child had lead poisoning. Now that number would be closer to 3,000.

Doctor Bruce Lanphear of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital applauded the more stringent standard. Lanphear has studied the effects of lead on young children and he spoke at the Statehouse on Thursday.

(Lanphear) “By now we’ve had considerable amount of studies that have been confirmed around the world indicating that there is no safe level of lead in blood.”

(Zind) Lanphear says lead exposure has been linked to lower intellectual ability in children, behavioral problems, and health complications once children reach adulthood.

Vermont officials are concerned about lead poisoning because nearly 70% of the state’s housing stock dates back to a time when lead paint was used.

About 60% of the children with lead poisoning live in rental housing.

A 1994 Vermont law requires rental property owners to minimize lead exposure to tenants and file yearly affidavit.

The number of landlords filing the affidavits hit an all time low in 2005, but until recently the state has done little to enforce compliance.

In the twelve years since the lead abatement law was enacted, no violator has ever been fined. Attorney General Bill Sorrell says that going to change.

(Sorrell) “We’re going to create a special enforcement team to track individual cases, from the warning, to, in the most serious cases, bring enforcement actions.”

(Zind) A spokesman for the Vermont Apartment Owners Association which represents rental property owners says his group has no problem with stricter enforcement of laws applying to rental property, but he says there should be an equal effort to get homeowners to comply with lead abatement standards.

A report issued by the Attorney General and the Health Department does recommend several steps to address lead problems in old single family houses, including a lead inspection when those houses are sold.

The report also calls for more public education on lead hazards and increased testing of young children.

Officials say old houses aren’t the only source of lead poisoning. Toys and other children’s products manufactured overseas also contain lead. They’re calling for a ban on the sale of those items in Vermont.

For VPR news I’m Steve Zind.

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