Durbin, Scott, Menendez, Young, Duckworth, Kaine, Portman, Smith Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Protect Children From Lead Poisoning

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ),  Todd Young (R-IN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Tina Smith (D-MN) today introduced the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2019, which would require the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to update its lead poisoning prevention measures to reflect modern science and ensure that families and children living in federally-assisted housing are protected from the devastating consequences of lead poisoning.   

Lead hazards in a home pose serious health and safety threats.  According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead hazards such as dust and chips from deteriorated lead-based paint are the most common source of lead exposure for U.S. children.  A 2011 HUD survey found that lead-based paint is in roughly 37 million U.S. homes, 93% of which were built before 1978––the year lead-based paint use in housing was banned in the United States.  While the available science for detecting and remediating lead hazards in a home has evolved significantly in the last two decades, federal laws and regulations continue to lag far behind, leaving vulnerable Americans—of whom a disproportionate amount are minorities—at the risk of being exposed lead before any intervention is triggered. Left unaddressed, lead poisoning can cause long-term and irreversible health, neurological, and behavioral problems in children. 

“It is unacceptable that children continue to be at risk from lead poisoning, which can lead to serious health problems,” Durbin said. “I am reintroducing this bill alongside my colleagues to ensure we are doing everything we can to update outdated federal public housing standards and provide additional prevention measures.  There is nothing more important than ensuring the health and safety of our children.”

“With buildings dating to the 1920s, South Carolina is home to some of the oldest standing public housing in the country," Scott said. "We owe it to children both in South Carolina and across the country to make certain that proper inspections are taking place in regards to lead paint. My mission is to ensure every child from every zip code in the country has the opportunity to succeed, and I am proud to help reintroduce this bipartisan to help ensure low-income families have access to safe housing that can provide a stable environment for their children's dreams to grow.”

“It’s incomprehensible that, in 2019, children are still growing up in homes where it’s unsafe to breathe the air because of lead contamination,” said Menendez.  “There is no safe lead level for children, which is why we must do more to strengthen inspection standards and prevent children’s exposure to lead hazards in federally-assisted housing.  The cost of inaction is far too great for our kids and our communities.”

“Protecting our children must always be priority number one,” said Young. “All children deserve the opportunity to grow up in homes and communities that are safe from harmful toxins, and this legislation is an important step to ensure the utmost safety in federally assisted housing.”

“No parent should have to worry if their home is a safe place for their children, yet in far too many houses across Illinois, children are at risk of lead poisoning,” said Duckworth. “Our bipartisan legislation will help address this public health crisis by better identifying lead hazards at home and providing affected families with a safe environment to relocate to.”

“Passing legislation to ensure children are protected from lead exposure should be a must-pass priority this Congress,” Kaine said. “This bill would mandate rigorous measures to ensure that our children will not be at-risk for lead poisoning and the irreversible health problems that come with it.”

“There is no safe level of lead for children, and more than 2,000 children in Ohio have elevated levels of lead in their blood. That is unacceptable,” said Portman.  “Every child should have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential and that’s why we must bring these outdated HUD lead standards up to date. More than that, we must invest in prevention to ensure every Ohio family is safe. This is a simple, common sense, bipartisan solution to address a key challenge facing low-income communities in Ohio and across the country and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.”

“A family should never have to choose between affordable housing and their child’s safety,” Smith said. “Yet our current housing standards put children at risk for lead poisoning by failing to properly screen for lead in advance, and by punishing families that choose to move out of unsafe housing. We know that any lead exposure is too much for children, and this bill ensures that our housing laws reflect this.

Under HUD’s current lead hazard regulations, visual assessments are used to identify the presence of lead in a housing unit.  However, while visual assessments—which usually entail identifying chipped and peeling paint—can show signs of lead hazards, modern scientific research has proven that such assessments are profoundly inadequate for identifying the most common sources of lead paint in a home: in intact painted surfaces such as window sashes and windowsills.  In order to comprehensively determine the presence of lead and adequately protect children from lead poisoning, HUD’s policy must shift from identification and management to primary prevention.

Specifically, the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2019 would ensure that families and children living in federally assisted housing are protected from the devastating consequences of lead poisoning by adopting primary prevention measures to protect children in low-income housing, including:

  • Prohibiting the use of visual assessments for low-income housing constructed prior to 1978 and requiring the use of more stringent risk assessments or more accurate evaluation tools that align with prevailing science to identify lead hazards before a family moves into the home;
  • Providing a process for families to relocate on an emergency basis, without penalty or the loss of assistance, if a lead hazard is identified in a home and the landlord fails to control the hazard within 30 days of being notified of the presence of lead; and
  • Requiring landlords to disclose the presence of lead if lead hazards are found in the home.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, American Association of Poison Control Centers, American Hospital Association, ChangeLab Solutions, Center for Environmental Health, Conservation Law Foundation, Community Catalyst, Doctors for Global Health, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, Habitat for Humanity International , Housing Assistance Council, Human Impact Partners, Health Justice Innovations, LLC, Lead Lab, Inc., MomsRising.org, National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), National Disability Rights Network, National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, National Housing Law Project , National Housing Trust, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, Elevate Energy, Erie Family Health Centers, Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Environmental Advocacy Clinic, Veterans for Peace Chicago Chapter, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, Prevention Institute, Progressive Doctors, Safe Kids Worldwide, Toxic Action Center Campaigns, Trust for America’s Health, United Parents Against Lead, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Housing Equality & Advocacy, Resource Team (HEART L.A.), Colorado Chapter—American, Academy of Pediatrics, Children’s Forum, Florida Association for Infant, Mental Health, Florida Center for Inclusive Communities, Florida Chapter—American Academy of Pediatrics, FSU Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy, Hoosier Environmental Council, We the People for East Chicago, Iowa Chapter—American Academy of Pediatrics, A Community Voice – Louisiana, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Louisiana Psychiatric Medical Association, Children’s Advocacy Center, Avesta Housing, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, Maine Children’s Alliance, Big Cities Health Coalition, The #BmoreLEADfree Initiative at Morgan State University, Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Public Health Association, Public Justice Center, CLEARCorps Detroit, Ecology Center, Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, Michigan League for Public Policy, MSU-Hurley Pediatric Public Health Initiative, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Mississippi Center for Justice, Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council, Saint Louis University Legal Clinic, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Washington University School of Law Civil Rights & Community Justice Clinic, Arc of Nebraska, Community Action of Nebraska, Community Health Charities of Nebraska, Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln, Nebraska Appleseed, Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, Voices for Children, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Nevada Chapter—American Academy of Pediatrics, Greater Seacoast Community Health, New Hampshire Public Health Association, Southwestern Community Services, Isles, Inc., Children’s Defense Fund—New York, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia Law School Health Justice Advocacy Clinic at Morningside Heights Legal Services, Inc., Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, Ashe County Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County, Lexington NC Area Habitat for Humanity, Inc., NC Child, North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, North Carolina Habitat for Humanity, North Carolina Justice Center, Person County Habitat for Humanity, Toxic Free NC, Children’s Defense Fund—Ohio, Cleveland Lead Safe Network, Coalition on Homelessness and Housing, Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, Environmental Health Watch, Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research, Habitat for Humanity in Cleveland County, Health Law Clinic, Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, MetroHealth System, Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, Ohio Healthy Homes Network, Ohio Poverty Law Center, Schubert Center for Child, Studies at Case Western, Reserve University, Universal Health Care Action, Network of Ohio, Community Legal Services, HousingWorks RI, S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Tennessee Justice Center, Tennessee Voices for Children, Children’s Defense Fund—Texas, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., Vermont Conservation Voters, Virginia Housing Alliance, Columbia Legal Services, Partners for our Children, Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments, and the Wisconsin Public Health Association.