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Problematic lead paint law possibly repealed

March 03, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 39, SB 246

JEFFERSON CITY - A state law that lengthens exposure to lead-poisoning is on its way to being repealed.

The law says the state Health Department must give three days notice to landlords before it inspects buildings where residents have been discovered to have high blood-lead levels.

The people who are still in the house, though, are still in danger of being exposed.

"A few days could be the difference between permanent damage and proper treatment," said Harold Bengsch, spokesman for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

A bill passed in the House and now before the Senate would repeal the three day notification, leaving it up to each local department to determine its own time requirements.

In Springfield, last year, a child's blood-lead content was measured at a level the federal Centers for Disease Control terms an immediate danger. To wait three days to test the level of contamination at the child's home would have placed other children in the home in danger.

"Quite frankly, in those situations we don't wait three days," Bengsch said.

The St. Louis City Health Department also has trouble with the notification delay.

Department spokesperson Ellen Ellick said when landlords refuse to admit the department, the department then has to go to the courts in order to gain entry. The time it takes to the courts added to the three days, is an even bigger problem, she said.

Landlords refuse because they are afraid of the expense, while residents fear being evicted, Ellick said.

Lead is most harmful to children, where it affects brain development possibly leading to brain damage. Chiefly, children get lead-poisoning by eating lead-based paint.

In Boone County, there have been three or four lead referrals to the Boone County Health Department in the last few years, said Gerry Worley, spokesman for the department.

"The notification issue has not come up, but we still support the bill," Worley said.

Though urban health departments are largely behind the movement to repeal the law, Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, says lead poisoning is not just an urban issue.

"Rural Missouri has a lot of old houses that contain lead paint," he said. Maxwell is the sponsor of a similar bill in the Senate.