In D.C., they do things differently


IN THE District of Columbia, there are at least as many 'D absentee-landlord rental properties as in Baltimore. But in Washington, lead poisoning is considered an education problem rather than an opportunity for a new mega-project.

In the District over the past six years, fewer than 20 children per year have been admitted to hospitals with lead poisoning; no children have been re-admitted. (In both Baltimore and Washington, there are about 20,000 screenings of youngsters every year.)

In contrast to Baltimore, much of the District's lead problem is in deteriorated, owner-occupied property, not in rental property. Washington still has rent control and an effective Rental Accommodation Bureau. Housing code enforcement is effective, and tenants are not reluctant to call for housing code inspections. Landlords who fail to eliminate housing code violations while their houses are vacant between tenants face a roll-back in rents and may find themselves owing tenants a fair amount of money. The fortunate result is that Washington's rental property tends to be encrusted in lead-free paint.

When a child is identified as poisoned by lead in Washington, the city's lead poisoning registry sends an investigator to visit and inspect the household and to discuss likely sources of poisoning with a parent or guardian. The visit is solely concerned with a visual inspection and a great deal of education; it does not include any sampling or analysis of likely lead paint. The visit is conducted in the knowledge that the family may someday move to an equally old residence.

The investigator will point out peeling paint and likely sources of lead paint dust, and will explain that lead is also present in such items as colored toilet tissue, pottery, cigarette ash, bread wrappers and newspapers. The investigator will inspect play areas and toys and discuss the likelihood of lead contamination in city soils.

The actual determination of dangerous paint is left to a city housing inspector. Peeling lead paint must be removed; it cannot simply be painted over. The landlord or owner is normally given 10 days to comply. Instructions are given on disposal of the lead waste.

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