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“Lead poisoning is preventable”

Posted February 26, 2017
8:28 am

Abigail Staudt, managing attorney of Legal Aid's housing law practice group, authored an op-ed that was published in The Plain Dealer today and online at  She highlights how "Lead poisoning is preventable," and urges the community to do more to help our children.

The full text of the op-ed is below.  Or, you can click here to read on

Mayor Jackson's take on Cleveland lead inspections wrongly puts landlord interests over children's health: Abigail Staudt (Opinion)

CLEVELAND -- Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement and fierce defender of equality and fairness, once said, "it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men." It was 1855 and Douglass was making an argument about the moral wrong of slavery. Douglass' words resonate today in Cleveland as we debate the moral and ethical consequences of lead poisoning in our community.

In a Feb. 12 article by Plain Dealer reporters Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson provided his views on the lead poisoning crisis in Cleveland.

While attempting to explain why the city failed to act on more than half of the homes where children who had elevated blood lead levels resided, Mayor Jackson described a "moral dilemma."

He expressed that enforcing an aggressive inspection program would potentially result in landlords being unable to rent their properties, and families currently living in those properties having to move.

If Cleveland too quickly or too aggressively inspects rental properties for health hazards and safety violations such as peeling paint, mold and broken toilets, families may be put out of their homes and landlords unable to rent their properties.

While Mayor Jackson's concern about the lack of affordable housing for families in Cleveland is commendable, his lack of expressed concern for the health of Cleveland's children is troublesome. In addition, his view elevates the property interest of landlords at the expense of the health of our children, which is unacceptable.

According to studies over decades, lead hazards in housing cause irreversible health problems, including permanent neurological damage, in children. There is no safe blood level of lead. No housing unit should be considered decent and safe if there are lead hazards. Owning properties to rent is a business choice. Landlords who cannot keep their properties to code and thus endanger the health of innocent children should not be in this business.

At Legal Aid, we see the consequences of lead poisoning on children every day.  Our education lawyers fight for the rights of children to get special services in school because lead poisoning has caused irreversible learning disabilities. Our health lawyers fight for families' access to healthcare due to the consequences of lead poisoning. Our housing lawyers advocate for more safe and affordable housing for low-income tenants and fight landlords who fail to repair the poor conditions issues in homes they rent. And, our colleagues in Juvenile Court see the consequences of lead poisoning each day, too: Early childhood lead poisoning is linked to aggression and increased crime rates in juveniles.

As we wrestle with how to address this lead poisoning issue, we must not lose sight of what is most important -- we must choose the health of children over the livelihood of the landlord. A focus on preventing the poisoning of children as we combat lead hazards in our housing stock has long-term positive implications for not only the health of children, but on the family, taxpayer, education system, juvenile justice system and beyond.

The city of Cleveland has taken way too long to act on this lead crisis. The city owes it to low-income families and children to implement changes quickly and effectively. Inspections must identify all properties with lead hazards. Visual inspections identifying peeling paint at properties will identify only some of the lead hazards. The real danger is found in lead dust, which is not visible to the eye, but is most likely to be ingested by babies and toddlers crawling around the floor.  Any unit that passes a visual test should also undergo a dust swipe test.

The approach to addressing lead poisoning in children must be preventative - remove the lead hazard before children are at risk of poisoning. The lifelong costs of lead poisoning on a child - for the family, the community and region - far outweigh the short-term hardships to a landlord who fails an inspection due to lead hazards.

At bottom, we disagree with the mayor. This is not a moral dilemma at all. As a community, we must choose the health of our children over the pecuniary interests of landlords.

Is it easier to build strong children? Yes. Lead poisoning is preventable. We must start by protecting children from the lifelong, irreparable damage caused by lead poisoning.  The development of children towards their eventual roles and functioning in society must be our paramount concern.

Abigail Staudt is the managing attorney of the housing law practice group at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.  Her team helps low-income tenants secure and retain decent, affordable housing; works to preserve and increase the supply of decent, affordable housing for low-income tenants; and enforces the rights of low-income tenants.

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