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Pittsburgh City Council passes bill to remove lead from rental properties

Marcus Charleston
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation that would require properties built before 1978 to be tested for lead. If lead is found, the owner must have the issue professionally remedied, and the city will test to ensure that lead is no longer found.

The bill focuses especially on paint, soil and water. It also guarantees that any demolitions of structures owned by the city built and before 1978 will be handled in a "lead-safe manner." And it requires the city to put lead filters on pipes to sinks and water fountains in city-owned buildings.

Lead is a toxin that, if ingested, can have damaging and permanent physical and development consequences for children. In recent years, the presence of lead pipes in city water systems has been a major concern, but lead in pain produced prior to 1978 is arguably an even larger problem — especially in a city with an older housing stock, like Pittsburgh.

Tuesday's bill was sponsored by Erika Strassburger, and passed unanimously. However, Councilor Anthony Coghill brought up concerns about one part of the bill that would require general contractors to have lead certification.

"I do believe that making the general contractors take the eight-hour course is unnecessary at this point," said Coghill, who himself owns a roofing company. "I like many, many components of this bill and I think they're going to be very effective ... but I hope to make changes in that before we implement it."

Strassburger said refining that requirement was a step she hoped to take.

"We have to figure out a way to make it as easy as possible for general contractors to do this," she said. "Whether it is splitting an eight-hour course up in segments ... getting people together on a day where work wouldn't be occurring anyway. Whatever it looks like."

In fact, Strassburger noted that she had "a running list of about 10 next steps" she wanted to take on lead.

"This is a momentous day," she said. "It's a really big first step." But she added that there was work to be done.

"I'm not going to necessarily be cheering until [we] the number of children diagnosed with lead poisioning is down to zero in this city ."

She likely won't be alone in that: During a public-comment period prior to the vote, lead-safety advocates said the city should do more, including adding a requirement that private-sector firms also be required to use lead-safe demolition procedures, to limit the spread of the toxin.

In the meantime, Councilor Bobby Wilson urged people to get their paint tested in older homes, no matter the size of the project.

"There's a lot of stories out there where parents who just want to make the house look a little better and they just take a piece of sandpaper and they start sanding a little bit," Wilson said. "It's just hard to hear that story afterwards if they have a couple children or a child. If you're going to touch paint in Pittsburgh, make sure you contact a professional to get it tested."