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Lead, Law, Lawyers & Landlords

      For years , federal, state and local governments have been attempting to limit the amount of human exposure to lead, a toxic metal that attacks nerve and brain cells. Blood levels of 10 micro-grams per deciliter and above have been associated in some studies with lower IQs, slowed physical and mental growth, hyperactivity and increased school dropout rates.

In 1978 the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in residential buildings. But the vast majority of housing in America is more than 18 years old. A fact that helped HUD to conclude that more than one half of the US housing stock- and more than three-quarters of the units built before 1978-contains some lead-based paint. The large numbers mean that despite any perceived risk of exposure, and the unrelenting pressure from do-gooder groups, the Federal government has been unable to mandate lead-paint eradication in most instances. Some states, however, like Massachusetts have gone well beyond Federal mandates or even guidelines. If there are children under six living in a Massachusetts dwelling, all lead paint must be removed.

Perhaps you will also recall a story that we reported in July 1995, where the City of Muskegon Michigan became embroiled in a lead-paint controversy with HUD because the Feds ordered the City to spend $89,028 to remove lead-paint from a $18,000 home, which the City had rehabilitated and sold to a low income resident.

The horrendous cost of mandated paint removal would result in an unprecedented American housing disaster, yet many experts do not even believe that paint is the most likely cause of elevated blood lead levels.

Interestingly, the Journal of the American Medical Association had reported exactly a year earlier, in their July 1994 issue that: "presumptions alleging lead-based paint in older homes had been a leading source of childhood lead exposure were proven wrong." The report found that children with lead in their blood exceeding a level of concern fell dramatically, by 90%, over the preceding 15 years. They hailed that "as a major public health success." The article also concluded that: "The major cause of the observed decline in blood levels was most likely the removal of 99.8% of lead from gasoline and the removal of lead from soldered cans."

The major decline in lead exposure was found throughout the entire population, among all ages, sexes, races, areas of residence and income levels. Of the approximately 19 million children under six years of age who are most at risk from lead poisoning, about 1.7 million, or about 8.9% of that group, had elevated exposure to lead in 1988-91. While during the 1970s, about 17 million, or 88.2% of all young children had serious lead exposure. It became obvious that exposure to lead-based paint in homes had little to do with the improvements that were noted.

The Journal concluded "the reduction of lead in gasoline is most likely the greatest contributor to the observed decline in blood lead levels during the period of the surveys. Since gasoline lead had entered food through multiple pathways, it is difficult to make a quantitative estimate of the reduction in food lead that resulted from decreasing lead in gasoline."

Lead-soldered food cans, which are banned today, accounted for 47% of commercially canned food as late as 1980. The Journal also reported that population exposure to lead-based paint "may have" decreased slightly during the period under study, because 14% of per-1940 housing stock was lost to urban renewal.

Trial Lawyers like lead because almost any kind of retardation or inappropriate behavior can now be attributed to an elevated blood level, and no one can prove otherwise without spending much more than a typical settlement with the lawyer and his client.

Lead continues to come from many other sources in our environment other than lead-based paint. Os-Cal and Dolomite, two calcium supplements taken by pregnant women, test high in lead content. Even Polyvinyl Chloride, a very popular plastic used in countless household products from phonograph records to children's toys may contain lead. PVC is "doped" with specific chemicals to produce different colors. To make yellow PVC, the manufacturer uses lead. Have you ever seen a yellow plastic baby rattle? Plastic blocks? Toy trucks?

Canadian physician, Boris Gimbarzevsky, wrote on the subject of lead poisoning in an article published on the Internet, where he said: "What is significant, when one considers environmental exposure, is that there is a huge variability in how much lead one absorbs depending on the means of exposure and the lead compound one is exposed to. Consider the physiology of lead absorption. Lead may be absorbed through the skin, the lungs, or through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The bulk of lead absorption is through the GI route in the pediatric population. Children absorb up to 50% of ingested lead, whereas adults absorb only 5-10% of ingested lead. So, in order to absorb lead, one has to ingest material with a high lead content. Is a child more likely to chew on a toy or a porch?


One condition associated with increased lead absorption is iron deficiency. A peculiarity of iron deficiency is that individuals have bizarre cravings for various foods. Children will commonly eat ice, although iron deficiency anemia has also been associated with cravings to lick venetian blinds, eat cigarette ashes, or even feast on clay. The reason that children absorb more lead is that they have higher iron requirements than adults and consequently iron-deficient children are at much higher risk of lead poisoning.

A critical review of the literature on lead toxicity in children from paint ingestion, reveals that most of the effects observed were in poor families with iron-deficient diets. Dr. Gimbarzevsky believes that it would be simpler to supplement their diet with adequate iron than, "to make the unwarranted assumption that no level of environmental lead is safe."

Another consideration, he reports, is the bio-availability of a particular lead compound. Metallic lead can dissolve in stomach acid and an iron-deficient person could potentially absorb toxic amounts of lead from such a source. However, compounds such as lead chromate are virtually insoluble, and thus non-toxic for all practical purposes. Pottery glazed with lead-based glazes may either allow easy leaching of lead into acidic solutions, or have the lead in a formulation which is unavailable to the liquid contents of the container. He believes that topic to be crucially important, but ignored by those government departments which apparently consider their primary purpose the incitement of panic among the population.

Dr. Gimbarzevsky wrote: "I would not be surprised that most, if not all, of the US cases of lead poisoning were actually associated with iron deficiency.

However, medical or scientific facts have never prevented personal injury trial lawyers from pursuing outrageous claims and damages whenever and wherever they can find less than intelligent juries.

Last year a Brooklyn landlord was ordered to pay 9 million dollars to 2 children who allegedly ate lead-based paint while living in a Flatbush apartment. A Brooklyn jury found the landlord, Dora Richter, guilty of negligence and awarded 12 year old Anthony Edwards a million dollars, and his 9 year old sister Ayanna a half million for past pain and suffering. The kids will also receive a combined total of 7.5 million, (probably less one third for the lawyers) in installment payments to "compensate for possible future affects of lead poisoning."

Massachusetts law now prohibits even renting a dwelling containing lead paint to a family with children under 6 years of age. In a recent case, Lafontant v. Skellaris, a landlord was held libel under the law although he didn't even know that a child had been moved into his apartment. The court held that: "[a landlord's] knowledge that a child below the age of 6 is residing in the premises ... is irrelevant." That decision puts the burden on landlords to always know who all may be living in their units.

Many more such law suits have been filed on behalf of children who may have ingested lead from paint - as a result of the big bucks to be made by lawyers - so it behooves landlords to practice legal self defense and obey the new lead laws in a timely manner ... and to the letter. It may not actually save the mind of a child but it could well save you everything else.

Beginning September, 1996, landlords were required, by Federal law, to provide lead paint disclosure information to all present and future tenants. Leases or agreements must contain the following Lead Warning Statement:

Housing built before 1978 may contain lead based paint. Lead from paint, paint chips, and dust can pose health hazards if not taken care of properly. Lead exposure is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. Before renting pre-1978 housing, landlords must disclose the presence of known lead-based paint hazards in the dwelling. Tenants must also receive a Federally approved pamphlet on lead poisoning prevention.

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