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Pittsburgh City Council takes up bill on lead safety for children

Biden Infrastructure Explainer Lead Pipes water lines levels
Brittany Peterson
A lead water service line from 1927 lays on the ground on a residential street after being removed on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

A newly proposed bill introduced in Pittsburgh City Council would require regular lead safety assessments for older rental properties, and take other steps to reduce the threat posed by the neurotoxin.

Councilor Erika Strassburger introduced a bill that would require rental properties with children present, and that were built before 1978, to have regular lead-presence assessments. It would also require demolitions to have permits with a lead-safe work plan and notify neighbors of the presence of lead in a site. Filters would also be installed in city-owned drinking and cooking facilities, and the use of such filters would be encouraged in all schools and child-occupied spaces.

"We know that there's no single source of lead, so we as a city are taking a strategic approach to address the most common pathways of lead exposure — including paint, dust, soil and water," Strassburger said.

Strassburger said the city, much of whose housing stock is older, tends to have higher rates of lead exposure, especially in the blood levels of children.

"By the time that children are tested [for their blood lead level] it's often too late," she said. "We know that no level of lead is safe for children, and so by the time they're getting tested and finding that they've been exposed, they're already potentially harmed for the rest of their lives."

Strassburger said the city's efforts would especially focus on properties like rental properties, homes and daycares where children are present.

According to the legislation, each year around 400 children are newly diagnosed with lead poisoning in the city — a disproportionate number of whom are Black and brown.

Strassburger said efforts to reverse that would be funded through money provided by the American Rescue Plan, for which council passed a spending blueprint this past summer. It's not yet known exactly how much will be spent on it.

Council is set to discuss the measure next week.