Levels of lead poisoning in children remain at disturbing levels in Massachusetts, a discouraging fact given increased general awareness and the remediation options available to property owners. It can’t be news for landlords that lead paint in an old home is a potential hazard and that it’s their responsibility to mitigate the threat. Yet a Globe story revealed a troubling gap in the health care screening system that can keep families that are at risk unaware of the hazard while letting property owners off the hook to delead homes. State law allows a much higher level of lead in the blood than federal standards, putting children at unnecessary risk. Legislators should correct this discrepancy with a more aggressive approach that triggers action on the local level.
Federal health guidelines were revised in 2012. Even low blood lead levels in children can affect their IQ, nervous system, and kidneys, resulting in significant learning and behavioral issues. The medical consensus is that there is no “safe” lead level in children.
Last year, nearly 5,000 children in Massachusetts tested positive for what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers to be elevated lead levels, according to the state Department of Public Health. Close to 11 percent of those children live in Boston alone.
Lead paint was banned in US properties nearly four decades ago — but given the age of much of Massachusetts’ housing stock, ongoing wear and tear poses fresh threats to children.
Deleading a home can be expensive and time-consuming, motivating some landlords to avoid renting to families with children. A new bill is gaining momentum that would let cities and towns set their own lead poisoning standards, as well as increase fines for noncompliant property owners and tax credits for those who comply with lead abatement; it also increases fines for landlords who discriminate against families with children in order to avoid the cost of removing lead paint.
Still, more economic incentives are needed for homeowners to delead more promptly. Increasing the tax credits for lead abatement is a step in the right direction, but the state should look into expanding existing financial assistance for lead remediation. For the sake of the health of the state’s children, a fresh approach is needed that alerts families earlier and provides landlords with the incentives to do the right thing.