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Family makes heartfelt appeal for lead paint law

By DAVE SOLOMON
Solomon, State House Bureau

January 02. 2018 9:30PM
Jessica Livingston, left, discusses the lead paint poisoning that has beset her family with Gov. Chris Sununu and State Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)



CONCORD — Paden and Jessica Livingston of Concord didn’t anticipate becoming the face of the lead paint problem in New Hampshire when they moved into a Concord apartment with their two teenagers and two toddlers.

But when their 1-year-old went for his well-care visit, their lives were turned upside down. The boy’s blood lead level was 25 micrograms per deciliter, five times the Center for Disease Control’s acceptable level of 5 micrograms.

“We were terrified and overwhelmed with panic,” said Jessica Livingston, at the State House on Tuesday, lobbying for lead paint legislation. “We didn’t know what our rights were, what our recourse was, what our options were. Imagine the anguish of living in a space that’s poisoning your children.”

She was joined in Executive Council chambers by Gov. Chris Sununu, leading Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate, and Dr. William Storo, the immediate past president of the N.H. Pediatric Society, all endorsing SB 247.

“In so many ways, our entire state will bear the burden of supporting children who have been poisoned by lead, something that is preventable,” Jessica Livingston said. “We should all support this effort to ensure the health and safety of New Hampshire families and prevent lead poisoning in the next generation.”

The bill, up for a House vote today, calls for universal testing (with a parental opt-out), mandatory building inspection programs and state-funded loans for lead hazard remediation in rental properties, child care centers and single-family homes.

Sununu called the issue “one I have a lot of personal passion for.” He described his experience as an environmental engineer, testing for lead paint in houses “often, frankly, in low-income neighborhoods, in areas where people didn’t have the means to do the testing themselves.”

“The bill we are here to support today really addresses a lot of these issues, and doesn’t just bring New Hampshire up to par, but really can make New Hampshire a leader nationally on what I think is an incredibly important issue,” he said.

Current state law says very little about lead paint. Before tenants or buyers move into a home or apartment built before 1978, they are asked to sign a one-page waiver acknowledging that the unit may contain lead paint. Any remediation is at the discretion of the property owner.

Landlords were largely in favor of the Senate-passed version of the bill, which allocated $6 million in state grants over a two-year period for remediation. The version the House will vote on eliminates the grants and replaces them with a state-backed loan program available to qualifying landlords or homeowners.

“It makes better sense from the state’s perspective,” said Rep. Frank Byron, R-Litchfield, chairman of the Finance Committee division that amended the original bill. “If you do a grant program, it will be one-time funding of $3 million each year that will have to be refreshed every two years. With loans, the money can be issued and will be coming back into the program as it is paid off.”

Both the House and Senate will eventually have to pass identical legislation before it gets to Sununu’s desk.

“I understand that some landlords are not ecstatic, but a lot of landlords support this bill,” said Democratic Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Majority Leader Sen. Jeb Bradley.

“I would say the majority of those we’ve worked with support this bill. Some oppose it, but that’s OK, because as Senator Bradley says, you can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

Representatives of the N.H. Property Owners Association and the Apartment Association of New Hampshire were unavailable for comment.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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