PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney today released a plan to improve the city’s efforts to prevent lead poisoning in Philadelphia’s children. The plan will strengthen enforcement of a 2012 law requiring landlords to certify that homes of children are “Lead Safe” or “Lead Free” and expand outreach to families and inspections for lead in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, as well as streamline the approach to remediation of home lead hazards in children found to have high lead levels. “There is nothing more important to me or to the future of Philadelphia than helping our children achieve their fullest potential,” said Mayor Kenney. “We are determined to take the steps necessary to prevent lead paint from holding our children back.”
In addition to releasing the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Plan, Mayor Kenney announced the formation of a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group. The Advisory Group will review the City’s plan and make recommendations on how to implement the plan’s actions and additional actions that other stakeholders can take to reduce childhood lead poisoning.
While rates of lead poisoning in Philadelphia have fallen dramatically in past 10 years, in 2015, 369 children were found to have blood lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), which could lead to lifelong learning and behavior problems. The primary source of exposure to lead in young children is paint, which for decades before 1978 contained significant amounts of lead.
Paint containing lead that is intact poses very little risk, but when this paint chips or peels, it creates flakes and dust that can be ingested by children, especially toddlers. City laws prohibit lead-based paint in homes that contains a health hazard to young children, but these laws have proven difficult to enforce for the many thousands of affected housing units. Federal funding for remediation of lead hazards has decreased sharply in recent years, and as a result expenditures for lead poisoning prevention by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health have fallen from $11 million in Fiscal Year 2007 to just over $2 million in Fiscal Year 2016.
Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis said, “As federal funds to help with this problem shrink, it is even more important for us to solve the problem. To address lead poisoning, we need to take a more aggressive approach to remediating properties where a child has tested high for lead, as well as to prevent exposure to lead in the first place.”
“Childhood lead poisoning today is a legacy from decades of disregard of health risks by paint companies and inaction by federal regulators,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “Nonetheless, this is a problem that has fallen to us to solve. While we’ve made great progress in reducing lead poisoning, we cannot accept the number of Philadelphia’s children who are exposed to lead today. We are eager to step up our lead poisoning prevention work and get advice from outside experts on how we can do be even more effective.”
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections will also provide support for the efforts of the Department of Public Health to combat lead poisoning. For example, L&I is modifying the process of issuing rental licenses to implement the lead paint disclosure law more effectively and block continuing violators from obtaining license renewals. In addition, L&I inspectors will receive additional training on identifying peeling paint when conducting home inspections for other reasons and referring those issues to the health department for follow up.
The Department of Public Health also released a statistical report on lead poisoning in Philadelphia. The report showed that 76% of children are screened with blood lead tests by age 2 and 88% by age three. The percent of children in these tests with lead levels above 10 ug/dL on venous samples fell from 4.5% in 2006 to 1.0% (369 children) in 2015. An additional 3.9% (1477) of children in 2015 had blood lead levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL. Higher blood lead levels were found city-wide but were most heavily concentrated in North and Northwest Philadelphia, particularly zip codes 19132, 19140, and 19144.
Other elements of the plan include encouragement of more consistent lead screening of children for pediatric providers with low screening rates as well as measures to increase compliance of landlords through education, reminder notices, violation notices, assessment and collection of fines, court actions, and changes in City Code to strengthen enforcement