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New lead laws should be put on a fast track



Published: Mon, September 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Five years have passed since The Vindicator published an investigative series that revealed the extent to which inner city children in Youngstown were being poisoned because of living in homes clad in lead-based paints that were peeling or chipping from the walls.

In establishing that health problems associated with lead poisoning were widespread, the series ultimately led to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's taking a closer look at Youngstown's public housing program.

We urged the administration of then Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro to crackdown on landlords who blatantly violated the lead laws and criticized the bureaucratic gobbledygook that was emanating from City Hall as to why there wasn't a greater sense of urgency in protecting the children of the city.

Subsequent editorials urged the law department and prosecutor's office to deal with the more than 500 violations of the lead-poisoning laws. Finally, Law Director Robert Bush appointed John Regginello, an assistant city prosecutor, and Greg Morgione, an assistant law director, to oversee the cases.

Proposed changes: But Youngstown Health Commissioner Neil Altman and the city health board believe that the lead laws need to be made tougher and proposed changes more than a year ago. However, the changes have been met with some trepidation in city council. Recently, lawmakers asked for legal and mayoral input before lending their support to the new laws. It's time for the administration and council to respond posthaste.

The health commissioner and his board want mandatory lead tests performed before any single-family home is sold and want authority to order cleanups if necessary. Disregarding the new law would result in a $100 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

In addition, the health commissioner could order an abatement and require the property owner to pay for the work.

Bush has raised questions about the constitutionality of the changes, but there is no reason why such questions cannot be answered quickly.

Indeed, state law already gives the health commissioner and the board of health the power to order cleanups, but they have refrained from exercising such authority. They would rather proceed with council's support.

Violators: But the fact remains that at least 400 homes have been found to be in violation of the lead laws, and that suggests a major problem.

Last year, in pushing for stronger laws to deal with lead poisoning, Altman made the following observation: "A $100 fine is nothing, but if you look at it as child endangering, which means criminal charges, that should draw some attention."

It is child endangering, which is how city government should view this situation as it decides how to keep the innocent out of harm's way.




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