Lead Poisoning in Rental Housing: Summary of the latest report issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment

14,546 cases of children with poisonous levels of lead in their blood were reported in Maryland in 1994.  In that same year, the Maryland Legislature passed the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, a progressive approach to solving the issue of Childhood Lead Poisoning in Maryland. This Program was designed and negotiated between the Child and Tenant advocates and the Property Owners Association. It was designed to maintain an environment where landlords could continue to provide affordable housing for Maryland residents while at the same time phasing in new requirements for providing safe housing. The legislation promised limited liability for landlords who complied with the program.

In the latest report on the effectiveness of this program, 355 children were identified as having elevated levels of lead in their blood in the calendar year 2016, a decrease from the 377 reported cases in 2015 and a 98% reduction in the incidence of childhood lead poisoning since the program began in 1994.

Remarkably, childhood lead poisoning levels have declined as the number of children being tested for lead poisoning increased from 52,000 in 1994 to more than 188,000 children in 2016.  New regulations require health care providers to lead test all children at the age of 12 months and again at 24 months. However, less than 50% of this population was tested in 2016.

Of the 355 reported cases, 167 (44%) were residents of Baltimore City, 47 (12%) were in Prince George’s County, and 32 cases (8%) were in Baltimore County.

20 confirmed cases of childhood lead poisoning in 2016 were attributed to immigrants and refugees who came to this country with lead-poisoning that originated in their home country.  Cosmetics, such as Kohl and spices purchased outside the United States were identified as potential sources of the lead hazards.  20% of the cases investigated in Baltimore City are attributed to the exposure that occurred outside of the United States.  Between 5% and 15% of the cases, Statewide, attribute lead in the soil as the source of poisoning and between 5% and 20% are related to such personal items as jewelry, pottery, and toys and cosmetics.

While it is interesting to note sources of lead-poisoning that do not involve chipping and peeling lead-based paint in rental housing, the majority of children identified with elevated blood lead level were living in housing units built before 1950.  18% of Maryland’s 2.4 million residences were built before 1950, and thus are likely to contain lead-based paint.  It is noted that over 100,000 rental units were tested to be “lead-free” in 2015 and 2016, adding to Maryland’s stock of lead-free rental housing units

Of the confirmed cases of childhood lead poisoning in 2016, 32% occurred in owner-occupied housing and 68% occurred in rental housing. 59% of the cases occurred in children who reside in housing built before 1950 and 13% occurred in children who reside in housing built after 1978, when lead-based paint was banned nationwide.

Rental property owners are encouraged to continue to act in good faith and with diligence to keep their rental properties maintained.  Working together, it is hoped that we can eliminate childhood lead poisoning.

Ben Frederick Realty

Ben Frederick III, CCIM, a real estate broker specializing in Apartment Properties in Baltimore, served on the Board of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore during the time that the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program was negotiated and passed into law.  Mr. Frederick was an early adopter of practices to keep children safe while at the same time reducing liability for landlords.  Mr. Frederick has expertise in guiding landlords in the area of best practices for compliance with the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

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