Lead Abatement Enforcement by Health Department Questioned - NBC Connecticut

Lead Abatement Enforcement by Health Department Questioned

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    Lead Abatement Enforcement by Health Department Questioned

    Lead poison continues to be a problem in many Connecticut children because of lead paint used in homes.

    But when landlords get orders from local health departments to get rid of the lead, NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters found it’s not always happening fast enough, which puts children at risk for exposure.

    The paint on Destinie J.’s walls in her New Haven apartment is cracked and chipping, but it needs a lot more than a touch up.

    "The whole house has lead," said Destinie, who doesn’t want to give her last name.

    Destinie also found out her 2-year-old daughter Lauren has lead poisoning.

    The EPA said anything more than a 5.0 micrograms per deciliter is poisonous and Lauren has 3 times that amount.

    "The health department just came out and they said and they said that the doctors referred them because her lead level was like a 15," Destinie said.

    Destinie said last April, the New Haven Health department issued a lead abatement order, but so far nothing has been done to fix it.

    "It could affect her learning. It could affect her ability to do things," said Destinie. "It could set her back."

    The Centers for Disease Control said exposure to lead can cause lower intelligence, behavioral problems and affect a child growth.

    As Destinie worries about Lauren’s health, she also wonders if her 2-month-old baby boy, Jaron boy will get lead poisoning too. He spends each day growing in home the health department said is unsafe.

    According to data obtained in reports from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, from 2008-2014 there were 6,960 new cases of lead poisoning in children under the age of 6-years-old. These children tested at or above the blood lead level the EPA considered poisonous to a child.

    Connecticut has aggressive lead prevention laws, requiring all children under the age of three be tested for lead annually, and any child under the age of six to have a lead screening if they have never been previously tested. However, it's after they turn up positive for lead poison, the system breaks down.

    Six months have gone by since the New Haven Health Department learned Destinie’s rented house has lead, but nobody is doing anything about it and the mother is afraid to push the issue.

    "I don't want to go through you know him getting upset then I have to move and all that, even though legally he is wrong," said Destinie.

    We asked Krista Veneziano of DPH what follow up the state does to see if a property owner is actually abating their property.

    "We follow up with the local health departments," said Veneziano. "This all hinges on what local health departments do and their responsiveness."

    The New Haven Health Department wouldn't talk about it with us, they said, because of privacy issues.

    But state and federal leaders told us lead abatement orders should be enforced quickly.

    "An order is not just there to be issued, it's there to be complied with," said Judith Dicine, Assistant States Attorney. "If children are living in risk because of lead poisoning, I will track it down an make sure the parties are made to be accountable."

    After our interview with Dicine, she informed NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters they applied for an arrest warrant for the property owner the very next day, but it was returned needing more information.

    So we stopped by the property management office to ask why they weren’t acting on the lead abatement order.

    Property manager Mendy Eidelkop of Mandy Management said they will fix the problem immediately.

    "I am intending to remediate this lead make the entire house lead safe within fifteen days," said Eidelkop.

    He also promised to relocate Destinie and the kids while the work gets done. But, Eidelkop said the New Haven Health Department is partly to blame for the lack of action on the lead abatement.

    "They haven’t contacted me for a few months," said Edelkop. "I think that’s an area that should be improved they shouldn’t have something like that for six months."

    One of the problems is that there is no set time frame to force landlords to comply with the lead abatement order.

    "If the risk to the child is imminent harm then the timing should be very quick," said Dicine.

    "Well we want it to be done as quickly as possible," said Veneziano. "Sometimes it takes a little bit longer in some situations."

    The State of Connecticut said 98 lead abatement orders were issued for homes where children had lead poison in 2015 and out of those, 76 were completed. Although, they did not give dates as to how much time had passed between when the lead abatement orders were issued and when they were completed. Additionally, Maura Downes, of DPH said “We do work collaboratively with the towns, through our case workers, to make sure that they are carrying out their statutorily mandated duty to issue and enforce lead abatement orders.”

    Meanwhile, the lack of follow through from the local health department leaves parents like Destinie at the mercy of landlords to keep their children safe.

    "What if I do got to move?" asked Destinie. "Who is going to help me? What if me and the landlord, he might want to bring me to court. I may win but who is going to support me? Who is going to be there?"

    Destinie's landlord assures NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters they will not retaliate against her for coming forward.