Columbus to sue landlords on lingering lead-paint hazards

By JoAnne Viviano and Mark Ferenchik, Columbus Dispatch,

Columbus city attorneys and public-health officials are preparing dozens of court cases against landlords who haven’t removed hazardous lead paint from their properties despite city orders. Some orders have languished for six years.
The officials acknowledge that they haven’t compiled cases as a group like this before, and are doing so only after an Ohio Department of Health report in May said that 51 Columbus residences, most of them rentals, must be vacated because of lead hazards.
Columbus city attorneys plan to file as many as 60 cases against property owners. Prosecutors expect to file cases within 30 days. More could follow.

“We have not done a comprehensive look on all the lead-paint orders issued,” said Steve Dunbar, an assistant city attorney. “We’ll definitely continue to look at it.

“Hopefully we’ll get caught up.”

The 51 Columbus residences were among 540 on a state registry of owners who had failed to comply.

Those 51 properties far understate the problem of lead poisoning in central Ohio, said David Norris, senior researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. He said an OSU analysis determined that at any given time in Franklin County, about 5,500 children younger than 6 suffer from lead poisoning.

Houses built before 1978, and especially those built before 1950, are likely to have lead paint. Children are poisoned when they ingest paint chips or inhale paint dust. That can affect the nervous system, leading to a lower IQ, delayed growth, poor hearing and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, according to the state health department. In extreme cases, lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, convulsions, coma and death.

“Lead poisoning due to lead paint — it’s in all of our cities,” Norris said. “We’re damaging children, we’re injuring children as a result of not dealing with this.”

That’s because houses get tested only after blood tests show high lead levels in children.

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity was established in 2003 as a center for interdisciplinary research at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have opportunity to succeed.