By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Whatever Philadelphia is doing to end the scourge of lead poisoning in kids, it’s not working. The lead exposure rate among children younger than seven years old is double the national average, according to state and federal health officials. After an investigation in the Philadelphia Inquirer, lawmakers are vowing to do something about it.

‘City ignores thousands of poisoned kids’ — If the headline isn’t jarring enough, how about this stat from the Inquirer: lead poisoning effects 1 in 5 children in Strawberry Mansion. Nearly as many in Brewerytown.

“There is nothing more important than correcting this problem because our children — our future — are depending on us,” said Teachers union president Jerry Jordan.

Jordan notes the average school was built 70 years ago. And State Senator Vincent Hughes says more than 90 percent of houses in the city went up before the ban on lead paint.

“So you see the potential that can exist for children to be exposed to lead at just about every stage of their early life,” Hughes said.

It costs about $10,000 to eliminate toxic lead from a small home. So lawmakers say money and other resources must be made available from the federal level on down to attack the crisis — and to enforce a city law enacted four years ago designed to punish landlords who are lax on lead safety.

“We can have all the laws on the books, but unless there are resources to hire inspectors to go out and do what needs to be done, they’re simply going to be laws,” said George Gould with Community Legal Services.

Gould calls it, in part, a casualty of cuts to the Health Department.

So those landlords need to be hit where it counts, suggests Mother Bethel AME Church pastor Mark Tyler.

“If they have levels of lead in their homes, we should take the rent. If they don’t pay, we should eventually take the property,” said Tyler. “I guarantee you that will change things.”

 

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