Pittsburgh, PA

A new city ordinance will do more to protect babies and children from lead

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

By Juliet Martinez 

A proposed city ordinance should protect children from lead poisoning. Council members Corey O’Connor, Erika Strassburger, Deb Gross and Bobby Wilson co-sponsored the bill.  

“Lead poisoning disproportionately affects Black and brown children in the City of Pittsburgh,” Wilson said. “These are our children, our neighbors and our future leaders. The Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law is designed to equitably help the most vulnerable people in our community.” 

The Allegheny County Health Department [ACHD] mandates lead testing for all babies and toddlers. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer has replaced more than half the city’s lead water lines. But the ACHD says more than 500 local children have high lead levels in their blood right now.  

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Lead poisoning fast factsGraphic by Juliet Martinez

Lead water pipes can contribute to lead poisoning, but the main sources are dust, lead paint and soil. The federal government banned lead paint in homes in 1978. But 85% of Pittsburgh homes were built before then. The new city ordinance would attack these sources a few different ways.  

  • Routine testing of rental homes built before 1978. If there is lead in a rental property, the owner would have to remove it. The ordinance would also protect renters from retaliation if they request testing.  
  • City-owned properties would need to install filters to remove lead from water. 
  • Contractors working in older properties would have to have a lead-safe plan. This means they control dust or keep it to contaminate living areas, air ducts, or other spaces or homes.  
  • Demolition permits would have to include a lead safety plan to prevent the release of lead dust.  

Why is lead dangerous?

Talor Musil is from Women for a Healthy Environment. She spoke about the ordinance to a press conference at the City-County Building. She said lead exposure harms children in ways that last a lifetime. It can damage a child’s intelligence, focus and impulse control.  

“Right now, children are serving as lead detectors in their home environments,” Ms. Musil said. 

Lead is a slow poison that affects almost every organ in the body, including the brain and nervous system. Children in early developmental stages are most at risk from lead exposure. Their growing bodies soak up lead. The damage to their nervous systems can alter the course of their lives.  

Once a child has lead poisoning, there is no known treatment to remove it. Nothing can reverse or cure the ways that lead changes a child’s behavior or intelligence. Babies, toddlers and children exposed to lead may not grow as well as they would have. Lead can cause hearing and speech problems and anemia. It can also cause high blood pressure, delayed puberty and diseases of the heart and kidneys.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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