Peter's Poisoned Pen

Will Vallone Write a Sickening Lead-Paint Bill to Please Landlords?

Eager to please the RSA and to appease the mayor's office, which wants weaker lead-paint rules in part because many city-owned buildings are affected, Vallone rushed his measure, citing a June 30 deadline on a court-ordered settlement. Goldberg, however, points out that the plaintiffs in that settlement offered to extend the deadline until October 15 to accommodate debate.

"They want to orchestrate a crisis, but it's not real," says Matthew Chachère, staff attorney for the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, which represents plaintiffs in a long-standling class-action suit regarding lead poisoning. "If they felt good about what they were doing, they wouldn't do it this way."

While politicians play with lead-paint laws, children continue to be poisoned. At any given time, there are about 30,000 lead-poisoned children under the age of seven citywide. Each year, between 1200 and 1500 more become poisoned. Lead poisoning is entirely preventable but insidious if not halted; symptoms are subtle, but effects are severe and long-lasting. Lead-poisoned children can suffer central nervous system damage, learning disabilities, and, in extreme cases, coma and even death.

Most lead-paint poisoned children live in the city's "lead belt," with some of the highest percentages found in Fort Greene, Bushwick, Jamaica, Mott Haven, and Washington Heights. A 1996 health department chart shows that more than 80 percent of poisoned children are black and Latino; only 6 percent white. "If this chart were reversed," says Goldberg, "we would have settled this issue years ago."

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