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Newly-introduced Lead Safety Law aims to protect Pittsburghers, their children

PITTSBURGH — The leading cause of lead poisoning in children in Pittsburgh is lead-based paint. That’s according to the Allegheny County Health Department.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Council members, along with the non-profit organization Women for a Healthy Environment, introduced the Lead Safety Law. They’re calling this ordinance historic.

“It’s one of the most important issues that’s facing Pittsburgh and will be one of the greatest pieces of legislation within this decade,” said councilman Bobby Wilson.

The ordinance includes four components, which include installing approved filters in all city-owned drinking and cooking facilities. It’s also encouraging all schools and child-occupied spaces in the city to install these filters, too. If passed, the law will also require lead safety plans for demolitions, renovations and repairs. And inspectors with the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will also have to test for lead in rental properties and daycare centers built before 1978.

That’s the year the federal government banned the use of lead paint. Eighty-five percent of homes in Pittsburgh had already been built by then. Records indicate most lead cases have been reported on the North Side.

“As a result, we have children every year who identify with what we call elevated blood lead levels, which is essentially lead poisoning,” said Women for Healthy Environment Executive Director Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis. “The Pennsylvania Department of State, last year in December, had done a birth cohort analysis. They released this report, and what it did was it looked at counties all across the commonwealth and looked at lead exposure. And what we found in Allegheny County is that children in black and brown communities have six times the rate of lead poisoning than children in white communities.”

Naccarati-Chapkis said more than 400 children a year experience lead poisoning in the city of Pittsburgh. She said that equates to 21 Pittsburgh Public Schools kindergarten classrooms.

“Children are experiencing lead poisoning at an unacceptable level in the city of Pittsburgh,” said councilwoman Deborah Gross. “I want to remind all of our residents that there is no acceptable level of lead.”

A final vote on this ordinance is expected to happen by the end of November.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority also continues to work on replacing all of its lead service lines by 2026. As of the announcement about the Lead Safety Law, the authority is halfway toward achieving that goal.