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Four years into Cleveland's decade-long quest to become 'lead-safe,' leaders say work needs to ramp up

About 80% of city's rental units still need lead-safe certification
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Posted at 5:18 PM, Feb 13, 2023

CLEVELAND — Data from Cleveland's Lead Safe Auditor shows the city is not on pace to meet its 2019 pledge to make Cleveland lead-safe within a decade.

"In order to get there, we've got to dramatically change the slope," Lead Safe Auditor Rob Fischer explained during a Jan. 30 Health, Human Services and the Arts Committee meeting. "The problem is we don't actually know that a child lives in the property, in the rental property until they're poisoned."

Lately, it’s been a topic of conversation with Cleveland City Council members as efforts ramp up to close the gap between homeowners and this multi-million dollar chest meant to help pay for Cleveland’s lead cleanup.

To view the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition Data Dashboard, click here.

Right now, Fischer said they are averaging about 1,000 applications for lead-safe certifications per quarter, but would need about 2,500 applications per quarter to achieve 100% compliance.

As Cleveland’s Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius points out, Cleveland’s Lead Safe Coalition, made up of public, private and philanthropic agencies, has raised more than $100 million to reduce lead exposure to recommended levels.

"There’s a law now that if you’re renting out your property, you have to prove it’s lead safe," he explained. "It’s a problem that's taken a huge toll on the city of Cleveland and our children."

That involves proactive testing, offering incentives and making sure the city’s estimated 103,386 rental units comply with a lead-safe certification.

However, through 2022, only about 20,055 units have passed the certification process. That means four out of every five rentals still have not complied.

As for the number of kids still testing positive for lead poisoning, Margolius said that remains in the hundreds. Blood lead levels are currently measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (μg/dL).

"The level where we have to go in and investigate a home is greater than 10 and we get 200-300 cases in the city of Cleveland at that level," Dr. Margolius explained. "Ten is the level where we do the full investigation, but anything above zero is dangerous for a child’s health."

Four years ago, area leaders unveiled plans to tackle the city of Cleveland’s lead problem.

"We are today ready to announce the establishment of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition," Mitch Balk, President of the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation said during a news conference in January 2019.

It was a problem at the time potentially impacting more than 80% of the city’s homes and found in the peeling paint on homes built before 1978.

A 2017 study found 13% of kids under the age of 6 in Cleveland had lead in their blood at or above the recommended levels.

"It was a monumental generational undertaking," said Rebecca Maurer, who represents Cleveland's 12th Ward.

Fischer explained that when Cleveland is compared to Detroit and Providence, who also undertook an effort to eradicate their cities of lead, Cleveland appears on a more favorable track.

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A slide during a January 30th committee meeting discussing the progress of making Cleveland a lead-safe city.

Fischer said Cleveland appears to mirror Rochester, New York's track, which launched its assault on lead in 2006. After 15 years, Rochester has reached 85% compliance.

For Charrell Reed of Cleveland, this mission is a long time coming.

He and his sister suffered from lead poisoning when they were little in the mid ’90s. He’s 29 years old now.

"The lead messes with your organs, it messes with your brain, it messes with a lot," he said.

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Charrell Reed and his son, Charrell Reed Jr, who both have been diagnosed as children with lead poisoning in Cleveland.

Among those diagnosed with lead poisoning in recent years is Charrell Reed’s son, who was just a toddler when he tested positive.

"It’s like you just traveled through a time machine and you’re seeing the same thing not get addressed," Reed said. "My children mean the world. We have to show them something right so we can have great children and educated children coming up in the world."

Resources Available For Property Owners

There is help available if you own and live in, or rent out an affected property in Cleveland.

Depending on household income, up to $12,000 per unit is available in a grant to help with lead abatement.

The Lead Safe Home Fund also offers loans and financial incentives to those looking to obtain a Lead Safe Certification.

To learn more and apply for assistance,click here.

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