Editorial: A move to lessen the threat from lead

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Most parents will do anything to keep their children out of harm’s way. They lecture about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, and about safe sex and texting while driving. When they witness reckless behavior, they explain to their son or daughter how one slip could land them in the hospital or worse. To have children means you never stop worrying – and sometimes the negative fantasies become real.

When Paden and Jessica Livingston, now of Bow, wrote an op-ed for this newspaper last month, the story they shared should have made parents shudder: “Our son,” they wrote, “was ingesting lead from the apartment where we lived.”

A risk assessor sent by the rental management company found contamination levels in the Concord apartment more than nine times higher than they should have been. “The inspector told us to ‘keep the children away from everything that was painted white.’ The entire apartment was painted white,” they wrote.

Last week, New Hampshire took a big step toward eliminating this invisible – but avoidable – public health crisis.

Senate Bill 247, a bipartisan measure co-sponsored by Concord state Sen. Dan Feltes and supported by Gov. Chris Sununu, was easily approved in the House, 266-87. The legislation is a significant overhaul of rules pertaining to lead in paint and water, and includes the creation of universal lead testing for children at ages 1 and 2, to be covered by all health insurers, and the lowering of the blood lead level threshold at which the Department of Health and Human Services will order property owners to address the hazards.

The safeguards contained in SB 247 are crucial for a state like New Hampshire, where the housing stock is among the oldest in the nation. There are an estimated 300,000 housing units in the state that contain potential lead hazards, and children under 6 are most susceptible to the irreversible brain and nervous system damage caused by elevated lead levels. Exposure stunts growth and development, causes learning and behavioral problems, and adversely affects hearing and speech.

Any investment the state makes in lead remediation is a wise one. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, for every $1 spent on reducing lead hazards, $17 is returned in health benefits, increased IQ, higher lifetime earnings, tax revenues, lower special education costs and reduced criminal activity.

Americans, editorial writers included, have become a cynical bunch as political polarization has worsened over the last couple of years. That is why it is important to point to examples of lawmakers of all stripes working together on legislation that is so clearly in the best interest of the constituents they serve. The House passage of SB 247, driven in large part by the collective desire to protect the youngest among us, should serve as a reminder of all the good that can be done when common ground is not only sought but staked out and developed.

While there has been some grumbling about the changes to the funding of the lead abatement program between the Senate and House versions of the bill – from $4 million in grants and $2 million in loan loss reserves to $6 million in a state-backed revolving loan fund – we fully expect the Senate to concur on Jan. 18 and have the bill on Gov. Sununu’s desk by the end of the month.

That’s good news for the people of New Hampshire, and especially the state’s young families. We hope the owners of rental properties with lead hazards think so, too.