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Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition Focuses On Preventing Lead Exposure

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced a coalition to make the city lead safe. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson at a podium surrounded by a coalition to support the city's lead safe plan. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Less than two weeks after a citizens group said it was moving forward with a proposed ballot initiative to reduce lead in Cleveland homes, the city has announced its own effort.

Representatives from city government, hospitals, philanthropies, and citizen organizations all crowded a stage at City Hall to support an effort to make Cleveland lead safe.

Mayor Frank Jackson emphasized the importance of community collaboration.

“Governmental efforts in and of themselves would always fail. You have to have community efforts, whether it’s the philanthropic sector or the private sector, all of this,” said Jackson.

Various committees led by both public and private leaders will work on answers to the lead problem. 

Mitchell Balk, President of the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, announced the formation of the Lead Safe Cleveland coalition with the goal of significantly reducing “the number of children with lead in their bloodstreams.”

“Ridding Cleveland of its lead and reducing lead poisoning are not one in the same,” Balk said. “Our strategic approach recognizes that while removing all lead from Cleveland is likely an insurmountable task. Reducing lead poisoning is something that we can achieve if we are willing to work together in partnership.”

Studies have linked lead poisoning in children to lower IQs and a higher risk of violence as adults.

The source of lead in Cleveland is usually dust or chips from old lead paint in homes. Cleveland city council president Kevin Kelley noted the city’s response to incidents of lead poisoning has been largely reactive without a preventative component.

The coalition will create a Lead Safe Home Fund to help incentivize landlords to mitigate the exposure through actions like painting over the lead paint.

“To our community’s landlords, let’s be clear. We’re going to have an iron fist but a velvet glove,” Councilman Blaine Griffin told a crowd at the city hall rotunda. “I want you to know that we will hold you accountable for the quality of the units that you own, but we will also help you access the resources that you need to do the right thing.”

How that is done remains unclear, but officials are concerned that cracking down on landlords could lead to shuttered rentals and displaced families.

Coalition partners say they want all babies in Cleveland tested for lead.

The president of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospitals, Patricia DePompei, noted that no lead exposure is safe but a standard goal is to stay below five micrograms per deciliter of blood.

Plans call for a lead safe summit in Cleveland sometime this year.

Councilman Blaine Griffin and coalition leaders at City Hall rotunda. [Mark Urycki / ideastream] 

Following the announcement, the group that wants a ballot initiative to prevent lead poisoning in Cleveland said it is not impressed. Yvonka Hall of Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) said the city is “kicking the can down the road.”

“It took 10 months to form a coalition?” Hall asked. “So when are we going to work on the business at hand, which is ensuring that children are no longer poisoned?”

CLASH wants to require that rental properties be certified lead safe before landlords could rent them.

A statement from CLASH said it “will continue to move forward with a ballot initiative.”

Coalition officials have not set a timeline to reach the lead safe goal, but council president Kelley said “we are approaching this with an absolute sense of urgency.”