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Criminal consequences needed for those who target lead poison victims

Lead poisoning, once epidemic among Baltimore’s poor, is now much now less common, but it is still claiming young victims years after authorities vowed to eradicate it. At least 4,900 Maryland children have been poisoned by lead in the past decade, their brains exposed to a toxic contaminant that often causes lasting learning and behavioral problems. (Baltimore Sun video)

The recent Sun article, “They sought ‘lead paint virgins’ and bought their settlements. It will be hard for victims to get their money back” (Jan. 21), should shock us all. The depiction of firms taking financial advantage of young people poisoned by lead highlights the need for stronger penalties for agents and attorneys who knowingly circumvent ethical practices and established business norms to profit from lead poisoning. We owe it to the victims of lead poisoning to ensure that the compensation they receive through the courts or settlements is not negated by unscrupulous predatory companies such as Access Funding.

We have allowed the establishment of a rigged system that offers victims pennies on the dollar for a quick cash payout and undermines structured lead poisoning damage settlements. In allowing this system to operate, we are failing again those who already are bearing the burdens of lead poisoning by contributing to their family’s financial instability. Children and adults who have been lead-poisoned face a lifetime of obstacles to reach their full potential and succeed. Lead poisoning causes learning disabilities, loss of IQ, attention deficit disorder and aggressive behavior that contributes to increased school dropout rates and juvenile delinquency. Research has found that a person poisoned by lead has reduced lifetime earnings of more than $1 million. Lead poisoning also creates staggering societal costs for Baltimore City through increased spending on such things as special education and criminal justice.

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We strongly support Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s efforts to recover the compensation from lead poisoning settlements and court awards that were acquired from unsuspecting claimants. The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, which has worked to end lead poisoning in Maryland and around the country for 30 years, supported legislation that Mr. Frosh, Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg and others passed in the Maryland General Assembly in 2016. It established protections to make sure that claimants in the future receive proper counseling on what is fair and reasonable before agreeing to any reduction in the compensation they are to receive.

We condemn Access Funding for systematically targeting lead claimants as well as any attorneys who may have referred clients to such settlement firms without providing proper representation. It’s time for the General Assembly to do more and establish severe penalties and criminal consequences where needed that will remove the financial incentives for agents and companies that are preying on individuals who rely on their lead poisoning compensation to meet their basic needs.

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Ruth Ann Norton, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

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