Jul 16, 2001
In June, one of Baltimore’s largest landlords finally signed a consent decree with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Stanley Rochkind agreed to take care of dangerous levels of lead paint in at least 480 of his 700 apartments over the next two years, while paying a fine of $90,000. Although, if he completes the work in the required time, the court will allow him to get half the money back!
The current settlement shows how slow the city was to go after landlords. After all, the law under which he was fined has been in effect since 1994, and ignored since then. And even now, Rochkind is required to repair only two-thirds of the apartments he owns.
The problem has been well documented for over 50 years. In fact, a Baltimore pediatrician was a leading researcher on the effects of lead paint poisoning on children. He founded a division of Hopkins Hospital which still runs a lead clinic. Dr. Julian Chisolm took samples from the children living in the slums near his hospital. He wrote “The Exposure of Children to Lead” in the early 1950s, explaining that the toxin found in lead paint was in the children at levels six times higher than levels found in industrial workers handling lead. He showed how dangerous the metal was in damaging a child’s brain. He designed a chemical treatment to strip the paint from children’s bodies.
Lead in paint (or gasoline) is so dangerous that it was banned nationwide in 1977 after a long campaign. Lead found in paint chips in older houses is often eaten by young children. The substance is so toxic that children have died from eating lead paint. Even a small amount of it can lead to brain damage. The brain damage can mean permanent developmental problems, including learning disorders, violent behaviors, and even mental retardation.
The problem is particularly severe wherever houses are older and the population is poorer. In Baltimore, estimates are that one third of black children suffer from lead paint poisoning, and, of these, a quarter of the problems are severe.
For decades, politicians have known of the problem and ignored it, allowing landlords large and small to stall, and then letting them off with a slap on the wrist when they are finally brought into court. The permanent damage done to thousands of children in Baltimore and in every other city lies on the doorstep of every politician who ignored what medical science long ago proved.