Cardin offers legislation to help fund lead removal


WASHINGTON -- Low-income homeowners and child-care centers would be eligible for money to remove lead-based paint, the prime cause of lead poisoning, under legislation introduced yesterday by Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd.

Lead poisoning is considered one of the nation's major health risks for children, particularly in older cities like Baltimore, where the health department recently relaxed requirements for removing lead-paint from rental properties to encourage more landlords to address the problem.

"This legislation provides the only real cure for lead poisoning -- prevention," Mr. Cardin said yesterday about his bill, which would place a tax on lead to create a $1 billion-per-year trust fund matched with local government contributions.

About 3 to 4 million children around the nation are in danger ofpermanent neurological damage from lead paint that is eaten after it flakes into chips or is reduced to dust. Lead poisoning can lower IQs, cause reading and learning disabilities, and reduce attention spans, studies have shown.

Under the measure, a tax of 75 cents per pound would be placed on newly mined lead and 37 cents per pound on recycled lead. Mr. Cardin said the tax would add about $15 to the average price of car batteries, which use three-quarters of the lead manufactured today. Lead paint was banned in the late 1970s, but it remains a problem in older homes.

About 80 percent of the money collected under the legislation would be used for abatement, Mr. Cardin said, with the remainder used to identify the problem in communities and to train workers for its abatement. The measure also would encourage lead recycling.

In Baltimore, where it costs anestimated $14,500 to remove lead paint completely from a typical two-story row house, the city health department has embarked upon a one-year experiment changing the way houses are tested for lead and encouraging landlords to reduce the amount of lead if they balk at complete abatement, according to Amy Spanier, a coordinator of the program for the city.

Under the old procedure, houses were tested for lead in a lengthy process gauging amounts on every surface in a building. The new method measures the amount of lead in dust found in the home.

According to a Cardin announcement, states and cities which collect the grant money from the trust fund would have to match it with additional funds that would start at 5 percent and rise to 25 percent. Local governments would decide whether to distribute the money through grants or loans.

The federal government estimates it will cost $10 billion to abate lead-based paint at the 2 million homesnationwide where the problem is the greatest. Another 57 million homes nationwide contain lead paint, with 9.9 million of those occupied by families with children under the age of 7, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mr. Cardin said roughly 30 percent of the 175,000 Baltimore units at risk from lead-based paint would be eligible for abatement funds.

"Federal help is vitally needed," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who joined Mr. Cardin during a news conference yesterday at the Kennedy Institute. The mayor estimated it would cost $2 billion to clean up lead paint on city properties.

Karen Florini, a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, also praised the measure, saying, "For far too long, the urgent need to combat childhood lead poisoning has been delayed for want of funds."

But the Lead Industries Association has termed the tax proposal a "punitive measure."

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