Editorial: Don’t leave lead paint bill on the shelf

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Legislation to prevent childhood lead poisoning in New Hampshire stalled in the House Finance Committee last week. We hope Senate Bill 247 doesn’t stay in legislative limbo for long.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable, even in New Hampshire where an estimated 300,000 housing units contain potential lead hazards. Nearly two years ago, New Hampshire took a modest step toward that goal by establishing the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Screening Commission, which was tasked with developing prevention strategies and increasing the number of children tested for blood lead levels.

The commission’s work over many months created the framework for SB 247. The bill requires lead level testing in all children at ages 1 and 2; expands efforts to prevent people from being exposed to lead in drinking water; and establishes a remediation fund for rental housing.

Children under 6 are most susceptible to lead poisoning, and the damage done to the brain and nervous system is irreversible. Exposure can cause slowed growth and development, learning and behavioral problems, and hearing and speech problems. There is little debate about why New Hampshire should take action, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details.

The most controversial – and expensive – piece of SB 247 is the remediation fund, which calls for an initial appropriation of $3 million in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

The fund would create a rebate program for landlords to address various lead hazards in rental units, especially the windows and doors that create lead dust every time they are opened and closed.

By targeting rental properties for the rebate program rather than single-family homes, the state can help more children. And it’s a smart investment. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that 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. 

There is no income bracket that will protect a family from lead poisoning. The major renovation of an old farmhouse poses as much lead risk as the flaking paint in a rundown apartment in Manchester.

But the truth is that low-income children are more at risk because they are less likely to be tested for lead and more likely to live in old rental properties. So by requiring blood lead level testing of all children, addressing lead in drinking water, and giving landlords an incentive to replace old windows and doors, the state can take aim at the cycle of poverty itself. 

SB 247 has bipartisan support, and for good reason.

We urge members of the House Finance Committee to get back to work on the bill as soon as possible to make sure no more children are robbed of their futures.