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Nearly 40 Years Later, Lead Paint Remains A Hazard In Central Ohio

Outside an old two-story duplex on the city’s eastside, Brian Hina begins a routine residential inspection for lead paint.

    

Hina’s company specializes in the removal of mold, asbestos and lead. He’s often contracted by the city of Columbus to test residential properties for traces of lead paint and before he even gets started here he knows he has his work cut out for him. This house was built in 1942. According to the CDC, anything built between 1940 and 1969 has an 69 percent chance of containing lead paint.

Hina inspects the faded green facade and points out what he thinks might contain lead paint.

“From right here I’m looking at every painted surface I see from the outside. The gutters, porch columns, porch handrails… the windows,” said Hina.

Hina will spend the next four hours testing every surface of the home, inside and out, with a special laser gun. He holds the gun to a wall on the front porch. A small red light flashes on confirming his suspicions.

“It’s positive for lead and it’s greater than 5.0. And you only have to be greater than one,” said Hina.

Hina says he can already spot lead paint by the way it flakes off the walls in scales.

“Latex pulls off in sheets and lead is rectangles, and it looks like the scales on an alligator,” said Hina.

Lead paint is a hazard that was supposed to be solved by now. The use of lead paint in homes was banned in 1978, but the Federal Government estimates that 34 million U.S. homes still contain lead paint. According to the CDC about half a million kids, ages 1-5, get lead poisoning each year.

The renter of this home, Juliet Brima said she never worried about lead paint until her young niece tested positive for lead poisoning. At the doctor’s recommendation, everyone in her family had their home tested. There’s no way of knowing which home was responsible, but it turns out Brima’s duplex could be to blame. Hina said he found a significant amount of lead paint, mostly on the outside of the house.

He’s estimated it will cost $11,000 dollars to remove and safely conceal. The cost of lead abatement says Hina averages between $2,000 to $30,000 dollars.

Thankfully there’s help. Brima’s landlord qualified for the City of Columbus Lead Grant Program. a federally funded program that covers the cost of lead abatement for those who can’t afford it. They accept about 84 properties a year and recently received an additional grant to include more homes.

Who lead paint affects

David Norris is a senior researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the study of race and ethnicity at the Ohio State University. Before he began his research on lead paint, Norris assumed this was a problem that had already been solved. Turns out lead paint is a prevalent health hazard that’s largely under the surface.

“It’s a lot of folks who are generally off the radar of the mainstream,” said Norris. “It’s folks who are lower income and minority folks. And it’s their children who are being affected by this,” said Norris.  

For his research Norris mapped the areas in Columbus that have older and lower valued housing--these homes are less likely to have had renovations to remove or lessen a lead paint hazard. According to Norris’ map, the neighborhoods of Hilltop, Linden, South Side and the Far East Side are most likely to have lead paint hazards. These are also areas with higher recorded instances of lead poisoning as reported by the Ohio Department of Health.

“We have a pretty good sense of where lead paint is probably a higher risk for children,” said Norris. “We could theoretically go door to door and check homes but we don’t do that,” said Norris.

When it comes to preventing lead poisoning, Norris said our current healthcare system is reactive rather than proactive. He says that's why there’s a common phrase among lead activists, “we are using our children as lead detectors.”

For Ann Tomlinson, a supervisor for the city's Healthy Homes program, a sick kid is typically her first clue when investigating a case of lead poisoning. She says they do have preventative measures, like educating the public about lead paint safety and testing. But in many cases, they can’t intervene before a kid gets sick.

“Well that would be ideal if that could happen. However right now that’s not the way the system is set up,” said Tomlinson.

Making homes lead safe

Norris says there needs to be more of an incentive for property owners, especially landlord's, to make homes lead safe. Toledo is currently considering an ordinance that would require landlords to make properties lead safe before renting them. Right now the law only requires they report the lead paint that they know about.

“But if you never check your property, and you’re never are aware that there is a lead hazard, then you’re not compelled to report it,” said Norris.

That leaves a lot of people in the dark who could be living in a home with lead paint.