Norton said children's health advocates have pushed for state legislation to require demolition contractors to take precautions against spreading lead dust. The EPA regulation that was finalized in April 2010 does apply, but while 11 states have assumed responsibility for enforcing the federal rule, Maryland is not among them.
Dworak-Fisher had called the city health and housing departments but was ultimately directed to 311. The operator filled out the form incorrectly, so the June 2 complaint was never forwarded to either agency, said health department spokesman Brian Schleter.
Mullins then took up the campaign and contacted several of the same agencies as well as Cole's office.
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said that after Cole's office contacted the agency, a lead program staff member investigated the property June 14, but it appeared to be gutted.
A housing inspector went out June 15 after officials were contacted June 10, said Cheron Porter, spokeswoman for Baltimore Housing, and the agency will continue to monitor the site. The city's building code requires contractors to minimize construction nuisances, which would include flying dust and paint chips, she said.
After the councilman's complaint, a sanitarian with the Health Department's Bureau of Healthy Homes also went to the house June 15 but found no problems, said Schleter. An environmental sanitarian went to the home last week, but saw no workers and issued no violations.
According to the city health department's lead paint abatement regulations, if a child is tested and has an elevated blood level it will start an investigation.
When the Dworak-Fishers saw construction begin on the vacant house, they suspected that the interior would be gutted. The pounding on the shared wall between the homes caused dust to blow in through cracks in the stairs and bathroom — though some of it might have originated in their own home. Sally Dworak-Fisher was concerned that it was lead paint dust.
She wishes someone could have at least confirmed whether the concern was valid.
Two inspectors from EPA's regional office came to Baltimore last week and took pictures of the house, according to Mullins. The agency did not say what they found.
A follow-up inspection by the state did cite another contractor for improperly power-washing the outside front of the house, according to Tablada. State rules require water from such cleaning operations to be collected and taken to a facility that can remove lead-laced paint chips and dust washed off the building. The contractor could not demonstrate such precautions were takento keep the potentially contaminated water out of storm drains and the harbor, he said.
Mullins said all the windows on 43 E. Henrietta St. were either broken or open, and the narrow passage between the two homes was littered with debris, including bricks, painted wood and paint chips. Her potted herbs were coated in dust, and she stopped serving summer dinners on their patio out of fear her daughters would breathe in the particles.
For now, Mullins plans to have her daughters tested for lead, based on her pediatrician's recommendation. The Dworak-Fishers, who also have a 3-year-old, likely will too, after they commissioned a lead inspection of their home, and the results indicated elevated levels in their bathroom and windowsill, but not on their kitchen floor or other areas they had cleaned.
"To have this potentially really hazardous situation right next door and no city or state agency to oversee it is an extremely frustrating situation for a parent," Mullins said.