CINCINNATI (TDB) -- While cities in Ohio have been lining up in courthouses to sue lead-paint manufacturers like Cleveland's Sherwin-Williams, and legislators have been maneuvering to cover them with economic-damages caps, the U.S. EPA has stirred a bit on the enforcement front. Earlier this month, the agency's Midwestern regional office moved to slap a $52,724 penalty on a landlord for failing to warn tenants and buyers that homes and apartments may contain health hazards from lead-based paint.
EPA's take on lead is that it is dangerous but: ''When properly managed, lead-based paint poses little risk."
The enforcement case is in Indianapolis, and is based on the EPA's administrative authority under the federal Lead-Paint Disclosure Rule. The EPA's Region 5, which is based in Chicago, covers most of the Great Lakes states. It said in a 54-court complaint that the landlord didn't warn of potential dangers in 10 properties. Landlords and sellers of housing built before 1978 must provide tenants and buyers with general and specific information, and the real estate contracts must confirm that the prospect has received the lead warning. The common-sense theory behind the rule is that people should know up-front they might be exposed to a toxic substance before moving into a home.
The EPA has a large amount of information available about lead and hazards to human health. Meanwhile, Columbus, East Cleveland, Toledo, Lancaster, Cincinnati and Canton all have recently filed damage lawsuits against paint companies. A common thread is that they conspired to hide the known risks from exposure.
''Lead exposure can cause reduced IQ, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height, poor hearing and a host of other healt problems in young children,'' the EPA said in the notice about its case against the Indianapolis landlord. ''Peeling lead paint is the most common source of lead exposure to children in the United States. About 75 percent of the nation's housing built before 1978 contains lead-based paint. When properly managed, lead based-paint poses little risk. If paint is not maintained, however, even low levels of lead exposure can threaten occupants health, especially children and pregnant women."