Many Low-Income Homes in Baltimore Have Lead-Based Paint, Crisis Exposed in Freddie Gray’s Death

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Olivia Griffin, whose 1-year-old daughter has lead poisoning, points out the old, peeling paint in her kitchen. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)
Olivia Griffin, whose 1-year-old daughter has lead poisoning, points out the old, peeling paint in her kitchen. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

The Flint water crisis, and other situations around the country, have raised awareness about lead poisoning in drinking water. But there may be another lead poisoning threat from a different source.

According to an NPR article, many low-income homes in Baltimore still have lead-based paint, which is a major health hazard. This issue was raised during the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray. Gray grew up in a home with lead-based paint, and being exposed to that likely affected his learning abilities. His family eventually sued their landlord over the paint and received an undisclosed sum.

Although Baltimore banned lead paint in the 1950s, it is still a major problem in low-income housing in the city. According to a report by The Baltimore Sun, about 4,900 Maryland children were poisoned by lead in the last decade. The Sun also said that last year Maryland reported 290 cases of children with lead poisoning, with 129 cases in Baltimore.

The situation has gotten so bad that Gov. Larry Hogan has announced the state will start testing all 1- and 2-year-olds for high levels of lead in their blood.

Residents do have some tools to see if their homes have lead-based paint. NPR said Maryland has a housing registry that tells residents if their home is lead safe.

“The good news is that Maryland has been very aggressive,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, in an NPR story. “They have the right to notify their landlord under Maryland law if they see chipping, peeling or flaking paint and to get the landlord to fix that.”

However, the monitoring system is riddled with errors and some landlords refuse to fix the problem, even when they are notified. According to Grumbles, there was a case of an inspector who incorrectly certified 400 homes as lead free.

Activists say the federal government needs to invest more money into monitoring lead contamination.

“There should be a program initiated to remove lead from every home in the country,” said attorney Brian Brown, who sues landlords on behalf of lead-poisoned children. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if rich white kids were the ones being poisoned by lead, this problem would have been solved 75 years ago.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, some local parents whose children have grown up in homes with lead paint are already reporting development problems in their speech and behavioral issues. Ruth Ann Norton, an advocate on lead-poisoning issues, said that if children fail to thrive in school, it can send them down the wrong path.

“When do we want to stop dumbing down our kids?” asked Norton. “I don’t know what Freddie Gray did between the ages of 3 and 25, if he had been able to read well, had gone to school … [if] his family wasn’t just fleeing from one house to another, the likelihood of him not being on that corner would have been a whole lot better. We know that. There’s a bill to pay because we neglect.”

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