Mark Hayward's City Matters: Manchester slow to get the lead out
"We feel really horrible," said Enow. According to a letter from Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, her 4-year-old sister, Amina Abdi, has a lead level of 21 micrograms per deciliter, more than twice the state's action level of 10.
"It's not a good thing to have lead in the body," Enow said. "They're little kids; they will pick up everything. The baby is crawling. He will pick up everything and just eat it."
In a nutshell, this describes the upside-down, dysfunctional approach the city of Manchester and the state of New Hampshire take toward lead poisoning. Politicians and inspectors know the poison is out there, but they comfortably ignore it until it shows up in a child's blood and already does its damage.
Manchester is a city that has the shameful history of seeing one of its residents — a 2-year-old child — die of lead poisoning in 2000. And last year, 24 of the 74 cases of lead poisoning in the state — a third — were in Manchester, according to the latest data compiled by the state Department of Health and Human Services. (Along with most New Hampshire cities, Manchester is considered high risk for lead poisoning.)
The basic assumption is that any structure built or painted before 1978 has lead, according to Manchester's chief housing inspector, David Albin. And his staff doesn't have the manpower to take samples of lead and test them in every property they inspect, he said.
But even if the city did test, there is no law or regulation on the books that prohibits lead in apartments. In Massachusetts, landlords must inspect and remove lead from any apartment where a preschool-aged child lives.
In 2009, former state Sen. Betsi DeVries sponsored legislation to toughen the state's lead laws, which were some of the weakest in the country at the time, she said. Public health advocates were solidly behind it, but landlords fought the bill.
The legislation that finally passed lowered the acceptable blood level of lead in children. And it requires a landlord to test and remove lead from all apartments in a building where a child is poisoned. In 2000, a child suffered lead poisoning at 312 Cedar St., but the law at the time required that only the problem apartment be cleared of lead, not the entire building, state officials said.
Sellers of real estate sign disclosure forms that say they're unaware (wink, wink) of any lead hazards. Landlords hand out EPA brochures warning of lead to overworked parents who are barely literate in English. Government officials hold lead awareness week where they test children's toys for lead.
To DeVries, the system wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else.
"If it were coming from a source of food you were buying in a supermarket," DeVries said, "the government would be all over it and controlling it."
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