Ohio City Lags in Lead Hazard Inspection, Clean-up

October 27, 2015

The city of Cleveland, Ohio, failed to inspect at least half the homes or apartments where children with lead poisoning live, and when city inspectors did investigate and identify a hazard it got fixed less than half the time, according to a newspaper investigation.

The investigation by The Plain Dealer also said blacks suffer disproportionately high cases of lead poisoning and the legacy of the problem could also be linked to the city’s poor school performance ratings.

The city’s approach to lead hazards has been the same for decades, the newspaper found, meaning it focuses on responding to children with elevated levels in their blood instead of ensuring children are never exposed at all.

More than 87 percent of Cleveland’s houses were built before 1970 and, therefore, likely contain lead paint, which was officially banned from sale in 1978.

As part of its 20-story series on lead hazards the paper created a searchable list of homes where lead has been cleaned up in Cleveland and surrounding Cuyahoga County the past few years.

The city gives highest priority to children who have the highest blood lead readings, said city spokesman Daniel Ball.

The newspaper requested data from city, state and federal entities to determine how lead hazards were being addressed in Cleveland.

Two city departments, health and community development, deal with lead hazards in homes. Health department inspectors are supposed to locate hazards and hold property owners accountable for making homes safe, the paper said.

Community development manages grant money awarded to the city by the federal government for lead cleanup.

The paper used data tabulated by Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity showing the number of Cleveland homes and apartments linked in a state database to blood tests from children who were lead poisoned between 2010 and 2014.

The number of unique homes was roughly 2,570. That information was compared to records on nearly 900 lead investigations conducted by health department inspectors.

Of the homes that were inspected in that five-year period, the city cited nearly 70 percent of the homes, duplexes or apartments that contained lead hazards, according to the city health department records.

Owners have followed orders to remove or remediate hazards in 225 cases, according to health department records.

For nearly 400 houses or apartments where the city found hazards, city records give no indication of a cleanup. That means that in over half of the homes, the dangerous toxin could remain.

City officials said records kept by the community development department to report the city’s progress to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that more homes were fixed.

A spreadsheet provided by Ball, the city spokesman, showed 562 addresses of homes and apartments the city reported to HUD as “cleared” of lead hazards during the same period of 2010 through 2014.

The Plain Dealer also identified dozens of properties where there were long and unexplained time lags between city inspections and action against owners.

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