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Why are we still talking about the lead problem?



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



We should have known better, but when it comes to the safety of children, hope does spring eternal for us. On Sept. 10, 2001, we ran an editorial in this space with the following headline: "New lead laws should be put on a fast track."

Fast track? Five years had already passed by then since The Vindicator's 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.

The administration of then Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro had failed to crack down on landlords who blatantly violated the lead laws -- even though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had taken a closer look at the city's lead abatement program. HUD's interest was triggered by The Vindicator series.

Mandatory tests

Thus, in September 2001, when Youngstown Health Commissioner Neil Altman and the board of health renewed their calls for tougher lead laws, sought mandatory lead tests before any single-family home is sold and asked for authority to order cleanups if necessary, we believed city government would do the right thing.

It has long been our contention that the right thing must include prosecuting violators of the lead laws.

But a story in Tuesday's Vindicator shows how wrong we were in our optimism. The story can be summed us thus: While government fiddles, children are being poisoned.

Public health authorities told members of the Youngstown Board of Education that more than 400 homes with lead hazards have been brought to the attention of the city prosecutor's office, but none had been taken to the municipal court.

Why would the board of education care? Here's what Superintendent Ben McGee said in a memo: "There is a significant link between learning and behavioral problems in children and lead poisoning. Children recently diagnosed as lead poisoned who are not yet of school age will likely attend the Youngstown City School District."

And the kicker: Almost 2,500 city children have been diagnosed with lead poisoning since 1992.

No city official, either in the McKelvey administration or in council, can feign surprise at McGee's observations. The newspaper series clearly laid out the problem and the consequences of not addressing it.

We have used this space on numerous occasions to urge, plead and even demand that legal action be taken against the landlords who have no qualms about breaking the law.

We have even suggested that had this problem existed in the suburbs, where some of the landlords live, it would have been addressed immediately.

Harm's way

Every caring Youngstown citizen should be incensed at the city prosecutor's failure to act expeditiously. And as a society, we should be ashamed that children continue to be in harm's way because of irresponsible adults.

We call on Mayor McKelvey, a former educator like his predecessor, Ungaro, to become directly involved in this matter. It's time for city government to act.

This story has gone on too long.




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