Too many Baltimore landlords are renting “under the radar”—that is, failing to register their rental properties with the Maryland Department of the Environment—and lead exposure and poisoning is often the end result, according to City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
In February, the Baltimore City Council adopted a resolution calling for increased cooperation between city, state and federal officials to bring Baltimore’s lead paint poisoning crisis under control. Lawmakers also want to see additional state-level changes that will better protect Baltimore’s children. Currently, more than 56,000 Baltimore children under age six are at risk from lead poisoning, according to Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner.
But communication between City and State lawmakers on lead compliance hasn’t heated up following last month’s City Council resolution, said Clarke.
“So many landlords have just stopped registering their units and certifying their units,” she said. “People really don’t have a dependable guideline about where to rent. First of all the landlords have to register their properties and then from there go through the certification process.”
Effective January 2015, landlords owning rental units built prior to 1978 must register with the Maryland Department of the Environment within 30 days of property acquisition. Lead inspections are required of all registered properties and must be conducted by an MDE accredited lead paint inspector.
“We need more oversight from the state” said Pat Clarke. “It is a requirement for landlords to register. If we don’t even know where the units are, the whole process breaks down.”
It remains unclear how many properties in Baltimore contain lead paint. Many rental properties are not registered. The Baltimore City Health Department maintains a list of properties with active lead level violations; more than 400 addresses are currently listed including both occupied and unoccupied dwellings. There is no proactive city mandate for lead paint certification.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) acknowledged that gaps exist in the Lead Paint Registry system.
“We are working to improve our technology with better computer databases that will allow our program to operate more efficiently and allow renters to more easily get information” said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson.
City and state officials also disagree on the number of certified lead testers needed to ensure properties are being inspected.
“We need to recruit and train more inspectors and certified lead removal technicians,” said Clarke.
Apperson contends that the state has enough inspectors.
“The department’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program has sufficient, dedicated funding and staff whose work is multiplied significantly through work with partners such as Baltimore City and Green and Healthy Homes,” he said. “We are happy to work with any other party that wants to support this important effort.”
MDE relies on private lead certification inspectors, but the state recently drew criticism after a private inspector erroneously certified multiple properties “lead-free.” As a result, nearly 400 families are being urged to submit to lead tests to ensure they have not been exposed.
City lawmakers also expressed concern about the disparity between federal and State definitions of lead blood poisoning. In Maryland, the legal level for lead blood poisoning is 10 micrograms per deciliter. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced in 2012 that there is no safe level for lead in the human body.
“These poisoned children are already below the radar screen,” Clarke and co-sponsors of the City’s lead poisoning resolution stated.
Lead can be breathed-in, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. Even microscopic levels of lead dust can cause neurological effects in children, according to the CDC.