For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit
This series of investigative articles and
editorials about Baltimore's lead poisoning epidemic and its
underlying causes is a great example of crusading
investigative reporting. This series also includes articles
that describe the dramatic responses of state and local
officials to the problem. The reporting is extremely
high-quality, accurate and hard-hitting.
$50 Million Pledged to fight
lead poisoning (Jan. 29, 2000)
Lawmakers back bill on lead paint
(Jan. 28, 2000)
No easy route to lead-safe houses
(Jan. 24, 2000)
Governor promises city more money
to fight lead (Jan. 22, 2000)
Where is leadership on lead
poisoning? (Jan. 21, 2000)
Lead's lethal legacy engulfs
young lives (Jan. 20, 2000)
Simple fix: conscientious
landlords (Jan. 20, 2000)
million pledged to fight lead poisoning
Glendening, O'Malley outline campaign to protect city children;
`A moral obligation'
By Timothy B. Wheeler and Jim Haner
Vowing to end the scourge of childhood lead
poisoning in Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore
Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday to pour $50 million over
the next three years into a major new effort to rid the city of
dilapidated housing contaminated with lead-based paint.
The governor and mayor outlined a
three-pronged campaign at a crowded State House news conference,
promising to strengthen enforcement of laws, expand testing of
children and provide property owners with grants to eliminate
lead-paint hazards from apartments and homes.
"Let us not mince words: Our children are
suffering," said Glendening, who added that he will ask the
General Assembly to authorize $5.2 million a year in new state
funds for the effort. The money would be added to the $5.6
million in state and federal funds now being spent on the
"We are going to attack this problem more
aggressively, more effectively and more efficiently than we ever
have in the past," said O'Malley.
The city will earmark $6 million in federal
funds for the lead effort this year and will attempt to continue
that level of funding for the next two years, the mayor said.
Both officials said they were moved to act by
a series of articles in The Sun that revealed how children are
being systematically poisoned in decrepit rowhouses held in
corporate shells by slum landlords, some of whom have been
implicated in dozens of cases.
In announcing the plan, the governor mentioned
Kyle Bridges, a Baltimore 12-year-old whose inability to read
and do math is attributed in part to his repeated lead poisoning
in a succession of east-side rental homes.
"When we know what the problem is and what
must be done, how can we turn our back on Kyle and all the other
children who suffer along with him?" the governor asked. "We,
all of us, have a moral obligation to come together and begin to
solve this problem."
Joining the two at the news conference was
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M.
Browner, who promised federal help publicizing lead hazards in
Maryland and enforcing the federal law requiring disclosure of
the presence of lead paint whenever a housing unit changes
"It is my strong hope that the day will come
when we will all be able to say, `Lead poisoning? That was a
problem of the past,' " Browner said.
More than 7,000 children are exposed to lead
paint dust and chips in Baltimore each year, and 1,200 are
poisoned, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
They account for about 85 percent of the cases
reported in the state annually, placing Baltimore among the most
perilous cities in the nation for children, according to the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Most of the victims are poor, black children
living in the inner-city neighborhoods Park Heights, Sandtown-Winchester
and Middle East.
More than two of every five children poisoned
statewide come from those neighborhoods, health department
records show. But little has been done to target the city and
state enforcement efforts there until now.
Glendening and O'Malley pledged to focus their
immediate prevention and cleanup efforts on those neighborhoods,
though the governor said enforcement would be strengthened
Under their plan, an extra $1 million a year
would be spent on enforcement. The money would allow the state
to hire five inspectors, triple the number of homes checked and
employ two assistant attorneys general to triple the numbers of
The money also would allow the city to hire as
many as six inspectors, doubling the current staff, according to
Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner.
The state's commitment of $3.5 million a year
to remove lead-paint hazards would provide grants of up to
$8,500 to landlords or homeowners in the three targeted
neighborhoods. Landlords would have to pay 20 percent of the
abatement costs. Homeowners would be eligible for full state
The abatement money should remove lead-paint
hazards from 400 rental units a year in the three neighborhoods,
said Raymond A. Skinner, state housing secretary. His agency has
financed cleanups of 500 homes citywide in the past five years.
Maryland's lead-paint law is generally
considered one of the strictest in the nation, but the state
hasn't provided adequate funds to enforce it.
The heart of the law is a requirement that
landlords register their properties with the state Department of
the Environment, clean up lead-paint hazards and submit to
safety inspections before renting to families with children.
But with only five state inspectors and one
part-time prosecutor to enforce the law, compliance has lagged
far behind what was envisioned by lawmakers.
Fewer than half of the rental units in the
state are registered, fewer than 100 scofflaw landlords are
prosecuted annually, and eight of 10 children poisoned are found
to be living in uncertified houses.
In Baltimore, where the city Health Department
acts on the state environmental agency's behalf, the picture is
much the same.
Operating on a budget of less than $1 million
a year, six inspectors have struggled to police nearly 70,000
rental units built before 1951 -- when lead paint was banned in
the city -- without a prosecutor assigned to their cases until
Glendening and O'Malley said money alone will
not solve the problem. They called for legislation and
regulations to help alert the public to lead-poisoning hazards
and to curb abuses by landlords.
O'Malley said the city will seek state
legislation requiring that a notice be posted in every rental
unit built before 1950 stating that it complies with the state
law. The notices would assure tenants that cleanups required by
law have been performed.
The city will introduce a bill aimed at
preventing landlords from evading cleanup orders. Denise Duval,
assistant city housing commissioner, said some landlords are
transferring properties to corporations, then denying
responsibility for abating lead-paint hazards.
Those bills will join a flurry of proposals
being prepared in Annapolis, including legislation that would
hold paint manufacturers responsible and provide abatement tax
credits for homeowners and landlords.
Yesterday's announcement drew praise from
legislators and advocates for children's health. Spokesmen for
Baltimore's largest landlords endorsed the calls for tougher
enforcement of existing laws.
"It shows a commitment from the governor's
office that was super and a commitment and energy level from the
mayor that we haven't seen in a while," said Sen. Barbara A.
Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.
"It's a tremendous first step," said Ruth Ann
Norton, director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead
Poisoning. Her group has proposed an $80 million program aimed
at eliminating lead poisoning statewide in the next 20 years.
Glendening has directed a state task force to study that
"We agreed to the law, and we think everybody
should be doing it," said Charles A. Piccinini, a board member
of the Property Owners of Greater Baltimore, which represents
most of the city's largest landlords. "The ones that aren't
should be sought out and fined."
"It's a good thing, what the governor did
today," said Bessie Smith, 50, Kyle Bridges' grandmother.
"Maybe now, people will take this problem
seriously. Maybe it will help all the sick children of
Originally published on Jan 29 2000
Lawmakers back bill
on lead paint
Rosenberg, Hoffman support proposal to make lawsuits easier;
Cleanup to be announced; Manufacturers would share damages based
on Md. sales
By Timothy B. Wheeler and William F. Zorzi
Two Baltimore lawmakers are backing
legislation that would make it easier for victims of lead
poisoning to sue manufacturers of lead-based paint for damages.
The bill -- which would hold paint
manufacturers responsible for harming thousands of Maryland
children based on how much lead-based paint they sold in the
state -- would help Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos pursue
two lawsuits he has filed against the pigment industry.
Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg said yesterday that
he is drafting a bill that would allow "market-share liability"
claims against lead-paint manufacturers in Maryland courts. The
Baltimore Democrat said he agreed to introduce the bill at the
urging of John A. Pica, an attorney in the Angelos firm.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the
Budget and Taxation Committee, said she is willing to co-sponsor
"I think on the lead-paint issue, we've
ignored the fact that lead paint companies knew of the dangers,"
the Baltimore Democrat said.
Market-share liability is a legal theory under
which the makers of lead-based paint would share in all the
damages caused by the toxic metal based on their sales, even if
it can't be proved that a particular product poisoned a specific
Advocates for lead-poisoned children say such
a law would significantly improve the chances of winning claims
against paint manufacturers. Industry representatives have
denied knowingly harming children and have suc-
cessfully fought market-share claims in
Maryland and elsewhere.
Word of the proposed legislation comes as Gov.
Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley prepare
to announce a combined effort to reduce the health scourge that
has troubled the city for decades.
Tony White, O'Malley's press secretary, said
the announcement today will include a city commitment of $6
million in federal money toward lead abatement.
Carol M. Browner, administrator of the federal
Environmental Protection Agency, also is expected to attend the
announcement, but it was unclear last night whether new federal
money will be coming from the EPA.
The market-share legislation would complement
government efforts, legislators said, by generating funds from
private sources for costly housing cleanups.
"If there's some way to create a pot of money
to detoxify this housing, then some of the money should come
from the people who manufactured that paint," Hoffman said.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the
city delegation, said he is considering signing onto such a
bill. "They have some very, very, very compelling information as
to who knew what and when about the whole lead paint problem,"
There have been many successful lawsuits
against individual landlords on behalf of lead-poisoned
children, but paint and pigment producers have successfully
fended off attempts to hold them responsible for the damage
caused by their products.
Courts have required plaintiffs to prove which
manufacturer's paint poisoned a particular child, a legal burden
that has proven insurmountable.
Angelos filed two lawsuits in September
alleging that paint manufacturers conspired for more than a
half-century to hide the hazards of lead paint and to defeat
restrictions on its use.
One suit, a class action filed on behalf of a
million Maryland homeowners, seeks compensation for the cost of
removing lead-based paint from their houses. Another seeks
damages for six Baltimore children who suffered severe lead
poisoning from 1995 to 1998, allegedly because of exposure to
paint and lead from gasoline.
The suit seeks $5 million in compensatory
damages and $10 million in punitive damages from 15 makers of
lead paint, lead pigment and gasoline additives.
Lead was an ingredient in most paint used in
the United States until it was banned by federal law in 1978.
Baltimore outlawed its use in houses in 1951.
Pica said that although Angelos believes he
can prove that paint manufacturers conspired, he probably will
amend his lawsuits to include the market-share claim if the
legislation is approved.
"They don't deserve any kind of protection,"
Pica said of paint manufacturers. "They should be in jail."
Market-share legislation figured in the recent
indictments of Baltimore Del. Tony E. Fulton and Annapolis
lobbyist Gerard E. Evans. Federal prosecutors have accused the
two of engaging in a "bell-ringing" scheme in which Fulton
allegedly threatened to introduce such legislation so that Evans
could collect fees from paint manufacturers to fight the
Rosenberg has a long history of advocating
solutions to the lead-poisoning problem.
"This isn't the first time I've worked on
legislation that says the paint industry should be held to
account," Rosenberg said. He unsuccessfully introduced a bill
several years ago that would have taxed paint sales to help pay
for abatement of lead-paint hazards in homes.
Originally published on Jan 28 2000
No easy route to
Sun editorial: A classic challenge to
Maryland's role as protector of public health.
LET NO ONE be misled.
State government must cover the very
significant cost of any credible effort to curb the epidemic of
lead paint poisoning in Baltimore. The job cannot be left to
poor families or to private philanthropic foundations or to a
poverty-stricken city. The scope of the problem is too great.
Nor can it be done on the cheap. Enforcement
alone will be futile -- as years of lax enforcement efforts and
a model set of lead paint abatement laws should have made
No one should mistake a few more inspectors
for a real campaign against lead dust, peeling and chipping
paint. Children will go on breathing it even as citations are
written and court dates set, postponed, missed -- or even if a
landlord is convicted.
The big money is needed for massive lead
abatement efforts -- tax credit incentives for landlords,
massive window replacement drives and education. In many cases,
perhaps, families will have to be relocated while houses are
made lead safe; some may need permanent relocation so houses can
The area's private foundations are helping:
They'll pay for a quick study of costs and a basic plan of
action, for example; or they'll chip in for an outreach program
designed to let pregnant women know the perils of lead for
infants and helping the women find suitable housing.
The state may insist that any financial
commitment -- as yet unspecified -- be accompanied by help from
other quarters. It may. But the problem is simply too big and
too urgent to leave it to private foundations and charities to
do most of the work.
A historic moment could be at hand -- a
striking legacy -- if the will can be found to seize it. The
Sun's Jim Haner has shown where the pockets of toxic lead are
most pronounced. Health officials say they can see now where to
focus their efforts.
Baltimore has a dedicated cadre of advocates
fighting against childhood lead poisoning. They know what to do
about it. But they have been no match for the forces marshaled
Any public figure who wishes to be seen as the
liberator of poisoned children could step forward now.
Who will be the one?
No one expects a global assault in a single
year. But Maryland has done more for the blue crab and the
oyster than it has for the Baltimore babies who live in
Originally published on Jan 24 2000
Governor promises city more money to fight lead
Clergy, legislators say action against poisonings is overdue
By Jim Haner And Timothy B. Wheeler
Gov. Parris N. Glendening arrived in Baltimore
yesterday on a fact-finding mission into the city's epidemic of
lead-poisoned children and came face-to-face with its
pervasiveness at Union Baptist Church.
Addressing community leaders at the west-side
sanctuary, Glendening pledged to send "a substantial sum of
money" to bolster the city Health Department's shoestring
enforcement budget. Then, he stepped into the crowd to chat.
When he reached the Rev. Douglas Miles, the
governor got an earful.
"I told him two of my grandchildren have been
lead poisoned in rental houses in this city," Miles said. "So I
take this very personally."
Miles is the president of the
Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, an organization of 200
pastors with a total of 20,000 parishioners, many of them
residents of three "hot zone" neighborhoods that produce half
the state's lead-poisoning cases.
It is axiomatic in Baltimore that when the
alliance speaks, politicians listen. And the alliance did not
"I am so angry, I can barely contain myself,"
said Democratic state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden of Baltimore,
who brought a subcommittee meeting on education to a standstill
in Annapolis on Thursday after reading a story in The Sun
describing how children are being systematically poisoned by
lead in slum houses in his east-side district.
"These are my kids we're talking about, my
constituents,and it is not lost on anyone that they are also
poor and predominantly African-American. The time for talking
about this over. We want action from this governor, now."
Miles said: "Very definitely, we will be
holding the governor to accounts on this. Now is the moment. Now
is the time. It's past time, in fact. But the newspaper somehow
seems to have finally gotten everyone's attention.
"This has been devastating the lives of our
children for too long, particularly our African-American
children. Stopping it is a question of will. It's a question of
That assessment comes one week before
Glendening and Mayor Martin O'Malley are scheduled to announce
what has been promised to be a sweeping package of reforms to
stop the poisoning of 1,200 children annually in the city.
An additional 7,000 are exposed to the toxin,
which inhibits brain, nerve and bone development, making it
difficult for children to learn or control aggressive impulses,
and triggering millions of dollars in health, education and
criminal justice costs to taxpayers each year, experts say.
But the state has given the city less than $1
million a year to pay for a small enforcement squad of six
inspectors to uphold Maryland's regulations against landlords
who control thousands of slum units in Baltimore.
This week, Glendening's staff floated a
preliminary plan to send the city what would amount to a
$200,000 increase to help deal with a decade-old backlog of
1,100 unprosecuted cases.
Echoing children's advocates, doctors and some
landlords, one city housing official called that "anemic." The
state has a budget surplus of $1 billion, but new lead exposure
cases are being reported by city doctors to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention at the rate of more than 500 a
Yesterday, the Maryland Coalition to End
Childhood Lead Poisoning -- the state's largest provider of
assistance to families of lead poisoned children -- presented a
budget to Glendening's staff asking for $80 million over the
next few years.
The money would pay for the hiring of
inspectors, two dedicated prosecutors and assistance to
cash-strapped landlords for the repair and replacement of
degraded windows and doors, the greatest source of poisonings.
"That is probably asking too much from this
governor at this time," O'Malley said last night. "But $10
million would be a good start as we work to come up with a more
comprehensive plan. I think the governor clearly understands the
urgent need to do something about these killer houses."
By the time Glendening returned to Annapolis,
the earlier aid package envisioned by the administration -- a
total of $1 million statewide, including the $200,000 to the
city -- appeared to be under review.
"The governor and the mayor are continuing to
work on a specific targeted plan to begin addressing some of the
issues concerning families living in these lead-infested
houses," said spokesman Michael Morrill. "The details are being
worked on as we speak."
But the legislature has only begun to speak.
"We're going to push the governor to put more
money into this effort," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a
Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation
Hoffman said she hoped that the O'Malley
administration can present the governor with a plan for tackling
the city's most lead-riddled neighborhoods in time to get extra
state funding for housing cleanups when the governor presents
his supplemental budget in the coming months.
"We haven't had the money for enforcement,"
Hoffman said. "Baltimore City has had minimal enforcement of its
But Hoffman noted that the failure to
eliminate lead poisoning has aggravated the city's other ills,
notably the poor performance of inner-city children in school.
"We're focusing now on having children
entering schools ready to learn," she said. "If you're lead
poisoned, you're not ready."
Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, a Baltimore
Democrat who has been grappling with the lead-poisoning issue
for more than a decade, said he plans to introduce a bill
providing tax credits to landlords and homeowners for
eliminating lead-paint risks in homes and child-care facilities.
Money, not new legislation, is what's needed, Rosenberg said.
"You can inspect [housing] before kids get
sick," he said. "You don't need the law changed."
Support for that proposition came from a
seemingly unlikely quarter yesterday, as the Baltimore Property
Owners Association -- the state's landlord lobby -- threw its
support behind stricter enforcement rather than new regulations.
"We have been screaming at the state for years
to provide more money for enforcement, for inspectors, for
relocating affected families," said Sam Polakoff, president of
the group. "Our membership has spent millions of dollars on this
problem, while one industry after another has bailed out.
"The gasoline companies, the paint
manufacturers, they've all ducked out. We're the only ones left,
and we can't possibly clean up the entire mess out of our own
pockets. Meanwhile, we have all sorts of irresponsible parties
buying up houses, getting into our business and poisoning kids
-- and not a damn thing is being done about them."
After four years of often-contentious
negotiations between doctors, property owners and children's
advocates, the General Assembly enacted a law in 1994 aimed at
cutting down the state's rate of poisonings.
The law, which took affect four years ago,
requires landlords to register their properties and reduce
lead-paint risks in return for protection from lawsuits. Lauded
at the time as one of the strictest regulatory schemes in the
country, it has accomplished little.
Maryland still ranks among the most toxic
states in America, poisoning children at a rate more than 15
times the national average. And more than eight out of 10 of
those children live in Baltimore's slum neighborhoods.
Rosenberg, Polakoff and the city's pediatric
doctors agree that the reason for the continued epidemic is the
state's near-total failure to enforce the law, taking little
action against landlords who fail to register their properties
with the Department of the Environment.
Estimates are that more than half of all
rental units are unregistered -- and more than 80 percent of
lead-poisoned children are traced to those addresses.
"In large measure, there's been no hammer,"
Rosenberg said, mainly because of the state's failure to provide
more than minimal funding to city health officials.
Del. Lisa A. Gladden of Baltimore, a Democrat
and a public defender, said she was saddened to read how young
children are still being poisoned in dilapidated rental housing.
"I know these folks," she said of the tenants.
"I've seen these houses, and I'm telling you, this is criminal.
This is unfair."
Gladden said the continuing toll of lead is
all the more outrageous because "the solution is so easy and the
consequences so great. The treatments for these kids are
painful, and they don't necessarily help, so you add to a whole
generation that is being shortchanged."
She called for a joint campaign by the state
and city to crack down on "landlords who are not conscientious"
or to demolish lead-riddled housing that is too rundown to
She said she plans to introduce a bill
requiring public schools to eliminate poisoning risks in older
classrooms that may have lead-based paint on walls and woodwork.
Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's
County Democrat, said he has asked for a briefing on the
poisoning problem before the House Environmental Matters
Committee, on which he serves. The panel wrote the 1994 law.
"This is like every other health issue in the
state of Maryland," he said. "We let it get to the point where
the bomb has already dropped, and then we go in and try to clean
up the mess. If we act progressively and try to [fix] the
problem, we spend less in the end."
Miles said: "Behind all the rules, and all the
regulations and all the lobbying by the landlords groups is the
plain fact that the state has continued to allow slumlords to
rent out dangerous houses without regard for the safety of young
"The time to change that is now."
Originally published on Jan 22 2000
leadership on lead poisoning?
Sun editorial: Maryland stands now as
an accomplice in neglect of lead-threatened kids.
SUPPOSE the crippling scourge of polio rose
again in Ruxton, Roland Park, Potomac and other enclaves of
power and privilege.
Would the state of Maryland intervene for
those kids? Would there be any higher priority for the use the
state's $1 billion surplus? Could any tinpot committee chairman
in Annapolis get in the way of needed legislation?
Would Parris N. Glendening, who wishes to be
known as the education governor, fail to act expeditiously? And
what of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who wishes to
succeed Mr. Glendening?
Surely, action would be swift and
well-financed. Think of the task forces marshaled to confront
Similarly, war would have been declared by now
if lead poisoning were a problem of the well-to-do. Armies would
have been mustered and battle plans unveiled.
Not so with the ruinous plague of lead paint
poisoning in Baltimore, where children are repeatedly dosed by
lead in houses that could be made nearly safe with the
expenditure of relatively small amounts of money. Windows -- the
major culprit in lead poisoning -- could be replaced in many
inner-city houses for roughly $1,500.
Responsible landlords did precisely that with
their houses, but as Sun reporter Jim Haner shows, major
slumlords aren't responsible. They hire lobbyists to tell
legislators that lead paint is too expensive to abate, and that
pursuing landlords will drive them out of the market, leaving
abandoned, unlivable hovels behind.
Despite that shameful argument, Maryland now
has a strong set of enforcement laws and regulations. But these
laws have gone unenforced. Not enough inspectors. Not enough
money to hire them.
Not enough leadership.
For years, Baltimore's mayors failed to make
lead abatement a priority. So did the city's health commissioner
and City Council members.
Mr. Glendening says he is appalled to see so
many Baltimore children in such well-defined neighborhoods are
suffering the brutal impact of lead on physical, emotional and
mental well-being. He says a plan is coming.
It needs to come now.
Where was outrage about lead in the governor's
State of the State address this week? Why was the need for
action missing from his speech? He had the bully pulpit. And he
has the resources. Everyone wants a piece of the state's $1
billion surplus, to be sure, and the poor kids of East Baltimore
don't make campaign contributions or have highly paid lobbyists.
The governor, the lieutenant governor and Mayor Martin O'Malley
must speak -- and act -- for them.
Children from the privileged enclaves of the
state would not be so easily abandoned.
Lead from degraded paint -- sent into the
atmosphere primarily when old windows are opened and closed --
leaches into bone, tooth and brain. It stays for a lifetime. If
treated early enough, the damage can be minimized. But kids in
East Baltimore "hot zones" are treated and returned to the same
Who hasn't wondered why almost 20 percent of
city school students require special education? This pervasive
-- and preventable -- poisoning may help explain the phenomenon.
Mr. Glendening and the General Assembly have a
splendid opportunity to act now. They have the surplus. They
have public outrage. People see the vulnerability of defenseless
children. And several foundations are ready to jump in with
substantial sums after the state shows its commitment.
The task will not be cheap. Mr. O'Malley has
asked for $10 million to help relocate families from hazardous
rowhouses. That's the crucial first step -- but it's only a
Thousands of houses must be made lead safe.
Some must be torn down. Some landlords need to be helped with
detoxifying their property. Enforcement officers are needed to
put meaning in the laws.
The necessary steps are well-known to the
governor, the mayor and other interested parties, so waiting
much longer for this or any other planning research is not
Billions of dollars in lost productivity would
be restored, experts say, if the brain damage associated with
lead poisoning were prevented. Prevention is the only cure.
Money can buy that cure.
And you know it would have been there already
if the epidemic raged in Ruxton, Roland Park or Potomac.
Originally published on Jan 21 2000
legacy engulfs young lives
Epidemic: With poison in their blood,
thousands of Baltimore's children contribute to unsettled
classrooms and violent neighborhoods.
By Jim Haner
Kyle Bridges lay down in the middle of
McCulloh Street on his way to school last October. He rested his
too-small head on his book bag. And he told his little brother
to go on without him.
"I'm sick of living," his brother recalled him
saying. "I'm just gonna wait here till a truck comes and runs me
over. Don't worry, I just want to die."
Kyle can barely read a word more than three
letters long. He cannot do math at all, not even two plus two.
He was in special education, but nothing the teachers tried or
said seemed to stick. He was a playground outcast at Dr. Rayner
Browne Elementary School, Booker T. Washington Middle and
Ridiculed as a "retard," he would lapse into
confused and embarrassed gibberish. Under stress, he was prone
to lash out at other kids, his teachers, his grandmother. For as
far back as anyone can remember, he has had an explosive temper.
Kyle is 12 years old. His small body is loaded
with lead, ingested in a succession of East Baltimore slum
houses toxic with peeling paint and dust.
"Lead is associated with most of the problems
this child has had in his life," says Dr. Paul Law, Kyle's
physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Harriet Lane children's
clinic. "And it's certainly the most consistent and prominent
feature of his personal history. It's all over his chart."
Nearly a decade after the General Assembly
passed one of the strictest laws in the nation to prevent the
lead poisoning of Maryland children, Kyle is among the first
generation of kids who were supposed to benefit. He is also
living proof of how badly the state has failed.
Maryland continues to rank among the most
toxic states in America, according to the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development, with more than four times the
national average of lead-exposed children and more than 15 times
the rate of lead poisonings.
The vast majority of them live in the slums of
Baltimore, where invisible lead paint dust hovers in the air
they breathe and clings to their toys, pacifiers and bottles.
Once ingested, lead inhibits a child's ability
to absorb iron, one of the basic building blocks of brain, nerve
and bone development. It also stunts a broad range of chemical
transmitters that affect hearing, sight and perception.
The resulting brain and nerve damage, experts
say, can trigger a cascade of secondary effects that include
learning disabilities, hyperactivity, increased aggression and a
greater likelihood of criminal behavior. While treatment can
reverse some damage, long-term exposure can cause lifelong
In Baltimore, lead exposure constitutes an
epidemic that strikes more than 7,000 children every year and is
a contributing factor in the city's crisis of violent crime,
failing schools and disintegrating neighborhoods, experts say.
But Maryland spends less than $1 million a
year on enforcement to prevent the chain reaction of side
effects in children that costs taxpayers tens of millions of
dollars in special education alone, according to a state
advisory board estimate.
Chronically underfunded, understaffed and
outmaneuvered by a cadre of mega-landlords who control thousands
of substandard rowhouses through shell corporations, city and
state health officials acknowledge that they have been unable to
make even modest progress in blunting the scourge.
As the Assembly reconvened last week,
children's advocates, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Parris N.
Glendening began formulating what will likely be the broadest
push for reform of Maryland's lead enforcement system in years.
The pledge of reform followed a series of
articles in The Sun last month that showed how dozens of
children were poisoned by lead in slum houses owned by a web of
more than 70 corporations linked to longtime city slumlord James
Officials have cited the case as symptomatic
of a breakdown in enforcement at nearly every level of
government. But a continuing review of state and city records by
the newspaper reveals an even more troubling trend.
In the poorest quarters of the city,
children are being poisoned over and over at the same addresses.
And some families have been rocked by successive poisonings as
they have moved through rental houses in the same neighborhoods.
Further, some streets -- such as the 900 block
of N. Patterson Park Ave. -- have become infamous in
neighborhood lore as "killer blocks." On this one stretch of 40
Formstone dwellings, at least 16 children have been poisoned,
among them Kyle Bridges.
"Over and over again, we see kids coming out
of the same houses lead poisoned," says Dr. Charles I. Shubin,
director of children's health and family care at Mercy
Medical Center, which manages a caseload of about 8,000
"One generation after another, we see the same
addresses, the same blocks, the same neighborhoods, the same
landlords. Our kids are being poisoned while we watch."
Echoing doctors throughout the city, Shubin
states: "There has been an utter and complete failure to enforce
basic laws to address this thoroughly recognized threat to
public health. There's no mystery here. We know where this is
happening, we know why."
Fully 85 percent of the lead-poisoning cases
in the state occur in Baltimore, and more than half of those
come out of three compact "hot zones," according to records from
the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Nearly seven out of 10 children tested every
year in the slum enclaves of Park Heights, Sandtown and Middle
East have been exposed. Coincidentally, these neighborhoods are
home to some of the city's poorest performing schools, its
highest violent crime rates and its largest blocs of substandard
"Lead is a big part of the action,
unquestionably," says Dr. Herbert L. Needleman of the University
of Pittsburgh Medical School and one of the nation's foremost
experts on the effects of lead in children.
"In some populations, it may be the most
important factor in determing a broad range of neuromotor,
psychosocial and behavioral pathologies -- poor cognitive
performance, hyperactivity and aggression being particularly
"It's a very potent metabolic poison."
And for poor children, Needleman notes, it can
shackle them for life.
If diagnosed and treated early enough,
middle-class children have a much greater likelihood of
recovering from lead poisoning and returning to relatively
normal levels of functioning between the ages of 5 and 10. But
children lower on the socio-economic ladder are far more likely
to be poisoned repeatedly and less likely to receive the same
level of care.
"It can put them so far behind at the
beginning of the race of life that they never make up the lost
ground," Needleman says, "particularly as they deal with all the
other pathologies in their environment -- crime, drugs,
malnutrition, neglect, alcoholism -- and particularly if the
exposure is persistent.
"Lead sets them up to fail across the board."
`Getting the lead'
Within a four-block area around a tan
brick schoolhouse in East Baltimore, lead has been altering the
course of young lives for more than 30 years.
Known as "Zombieland" for the pie-eyed addicts
who frequent its thriving illegal drug markets, the neighborhood
around Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School has produced at least
200 confirmed cases of lead poisoning since 1970, a computer
analysis of Health Department records shows.
Even that represents a bare fraction of the
actual cases, doctors and tenants say.
Up and down Patterson Park Avenue, Eager
Street, Biddle, Bradford, Chase, Milton, Montford and Port -- in
one low-income household after another -- families have kept the
tattered records of their poisoned children for decades.
They call it "getting the lead." Their
shorthand for the phenomenon is a number.
In Zombieland, every child has a number.
The number is a test result, a measure of the
micrograms of lead in a unit of a child's blood. Here, some
children are tested two or three times a year as doctors at the
nearby Harriet Lane Clinic and
Kennedy Krieger Institute monitor their exposure in what is
perhaps Baltimore's worst hot zone.
Under state law, every child who tests at a 10
gets reported to the
Maryland Department of the Environment for inclusion in a
national database of lead-exposed kids.
"Unfortunately," says Dr. John Andrews of
Harriet Lane, "we don't get terribly excited by lead levels of
10 or 11 or 12 -- for the simple reason that we routinely see
kids that high, and higher. It's a ubiquitous byproduct of life
in this neighborhood.
"We also know that kids at this threshold can
suffer serious, long-term effects if their exposure is sustained
long enough. And our kids are being exposed every day. But we
don't do anything for them, and we don't do enforcement at all,
until they reach this arbitrary limit."
That limit, set by the state legislature, is a
level 15. Only then is a child considered poisoned in Maryland.
Only then are city health inspectors notified about a problem
address. But there are only six of them. And their days are full
of snarling dogs, rat-infested alleys, frightened tenants and
landlords well-practiced at evasion.
"We know from what our inspectors tell us that
a handful of landlords are responsible for 70 percent of the
lead cases in the city," says Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city
health commissioner. "The problem is that you have to pierce 16
corporations to figure out that the same guy owns 250 houses
where kids have been hurt.
"Meanwhile, we're getting fresh reports every
day at other addresses -- and the law requires us to follow up
every one. We don't have anywhere near the staff or the funding
to do any kind of consistent enforcement or targeting of repeat
offenders. So they just go on poisoning kids, knowing we don't
have the resources to stop them."
At levels above 25, children and their
families are referred to specialists for intervention
At 35 to 40, where Kyle Bridges' peaked before
his suicide attempt, they are candidates for hospital admission
and a painful course of chemical injections known as "chelation"
to strip the lead from their bodies.
And because most east-side families are at or
below the poverty level, taxpayers foot much of the bill.
"Our priorities are completely backwards,"
says Dr. Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor at the University of
Maryland medical school and one of the nation's leading experts
on lead toxicology. "Every time this has come before the
legislature, we are told that a serious enforcement program to
prevent this would be too expensive -- as if we aren't paying
for this already.
"In terms of criminal justice, public health
and schools, the costs are virtually incalculable at this point,
not to mention what it does to the kids."
Walk the streets of Zombieland, and that
much quickly becomes clear.
Talk to Jeanette Alston, 52, who has toiled
most of her life as a cook while struggling to raise her
children and a succession of displaced nieces, nephews and
neighborhood waifs in her rented rowhouse near Patterson Park
Her son was poisoned here in 1979, records
show, followed by two of her nieces in 1982.
"Leonardo was a 26," she recalls wearily. "The
girls were both in the 30s -- very high."
The successive cases over such a relatively
short period precipitated several frantic rounds of repairs by
landlord Muriel Miller, who fixed or replaced most of the
windows, floors and woodwork in the house as the city citations
Ultimately, Miller and her husband would be
cited in more than 15 lead cases at properties they owned,
including three in the past five years.
"We tried to do the right thing," says Miller,
now a widow in her 70s. "There's a lot of problems with other
landlords, I know, but I don't think my husband and I were ever
among them. We always did our best to take care of our
properties. But it's expensive, very expensive, and a lot of
these neighborhoods have only declined over the years."
For her part, Alston spent the past two
decades running in and out of doctors' offices, teacher
conferences and the Department of Social Services, tending to
one lead-poisoned child in the family after another.
So why didn't she move?
"Same reason as everybody else in this
neighborhood," Alston says. "I couldn't afford it. I was stuck,
all the same financial problems people got all around here, you
know? You struggle paycheck to paycheck, you're always behind in
something. Gas bills. Electric bills. The kids got to eat,
"You think any of us would be living here if
we had a choice?"
Over in the 2400 block of Eager St., hard by
the railroad tracks that run behind Rayner Browne Elementary,
Cliff Love has made at least one choice.
The 24-year-old warehouse worker and father of
two stands in a mist of rain, sweeping his arm downhill toward a
wall of boarded-up rowhouse shells. He recounts how landlords
regularly cruise his block offering "no money down, rent-to-own"
deals on their vacant properties.
"They think people are stupid," he spits.
"They think we don't know what's happened in them houses. You
buy one of them houses, your kids will be messed up for the rest
of their lives."
Families have come and gone from this street,
sometimes in tears, he says, driven off by high lead levels in
their babies and deplorable living conditions. He doesn't know
exactly how many kids have been poisoned, but in the oral
history of the neighborhood, 2400 Eager is known as a killer
Health Department records show at least 19
children have been poisoned on this one stretch of Eager Street.
The city citations reveal a rogue's gallery of
repeat offenders that includes slumlord James Stein and one of
his best customers, convicted drug dealer George A. Dangerfield
Jr., who bought more than 30 slum houses from Stein on
Corporations controlled by the pair have owned
2437 E. Eager for the past decade, when at least two children
were poisoned at the address. Elsewhere in the city, records
show, their more than 100 corporations have been implicated in
the lead poisonings of more than 80 kids.
At Rayner Browne Elementary, Dangerfield's
name is synonymous with lead. He owns more than a dozen
substandard houses in the four blocks around the school, and his
tenants' children have been coming here for speech therapy and
learning disabilities for years.
Talk to parents outside the red schoolhouse
door, and everyone knows his name and maybe has a friend or
family member who rented from him.
Thomas Taylor, 32, a roofer and father of two,
lived a couple of doors away from one of Dangerfield's houses on
Collington Avenue and recalls neighbors complaining bitterly
about the landlord. But it's par for the course on these
streets, he shrugs.
"My little boy got a 16 when he was 11 months
old," he says. "Every kid on our block, it seems, gets poisoned
at one time or other. Every kid in the neighborhood gets the
lead. Don't seem to matter who the landlord is, they're all bad
in this part of town."
His son, Ka-ron, is now 7, a second-grader at
Rayner Browne. He's doing well, his father says proudly, "when
he's not acting up in class."
"Ever since he got the lead, he's been hyper
-- like to drive me crazy sometimes," Taylor says. "He was on
Ritalin for a while, but we're trying to get by without it now.
I don't want him spending his whole life on drugs."
Ka-ron grins and darts for the door, waving
goodbye to his father.
"Behave yourself in there, you hear!" his dad
calls after him.
Inside the neat-as-a-pin school, the usual
morning bedlam unfolds in the cafeteria under the watchful eye
of Danette Murrill, who has spent most of her nine-year teaching
career at Rayner Browne.
As energetic as an aerobics coach, the
State University graduate and wife of a police officer
serves as the instruction coordinator for the student body of
350 kids. She estimates that up to one in five children in the
K-through-5 school has been poisoned by lead.
"They don't stay on task, they're very
fidgety, they're uncooperative in class and they have great
difficulty retaining information," Murrill says
matter-of-factly. "As a teacher, it's very frustrating because
you always have at least five or six of them in a class -- but
you don't always know who they are."
Neither the state nor the city alerts the
school district when a child is confirmed to be poisoned. As one
result, there are no programs tailored to the particular needs
of lead-poisoned kids. The most severe cases are routinely
shuttled into the system's overburdened special education
program. The rest remain on the rolls.
"There's no special designation for them,"
Murrill says. "There's no tracking in place to help us chart
their progress. In fact, we usually only find out about their
lead history when we have a major incident that requires
"We sit down with mom or dad, and they tell
us: `Oh, Johnny has always been that way, ever since he got the
lead.' I can't tell you how often we hear that. These kids have
lots of issues -- drug abuse in the family, neglect, substandard
living conditions. But the big one we hear about all the time
from our parents is the lead poisoning."
On average, the school copes with five or six
major classroom disruptions a day that require another staff
member to help the teacher restore order, Murrill says. And in
the most violent classroom disruptions, lead is usually the
"It affects not only the child involved," she
says, "but everyone else in the room as well. You can forget
about teaching until you get that kid out of the room. And then
it takes another 15 minutes to get everybody else settled down
and back on focus."
The upheaval is reflected in elementary school
test scores, she believes, and not just at Rayner Browne, where
nine out of 10 kids in the third grade fail the statewide
Public records suggest a troubling
In the four blocks around nearby Tench
Tilghman Elementary, more than 150 children have been confirmed
as lead poisoned since 1970. At the school, 19 out of 20 fail
the statewide reading test. To the south, around Commodore John
Rodgers Elementary, more than 100 kids have been poisoned -- and
nine out of 10 third-graders fail the test.
"You see stories in the newspaper all the time
about how poorly kids in the city schools are performing on
state tests," Murrill says. "And everybody wants to look at
programs and teaching methods. Nobody ever looks at what these
kids are coming through the door with.
"Well, our kids are coming through the door
with lead in their bloodstreams."
`Like a time bomb'
Kyle Bridges came through the door in
1994, loaded with lead.
Medical records at Johns Hopkins show that it
had been in his bloodstream since he was a year old. And he had
been continually exposed to peeling lead paint in a succession
of slum rental houses in East Baltimore.
Built largely during the Civil War era with
cheap materials and slapdash labor, the east side was a vast
dormitory for the workers who streamed into Baltimore to operate
what was then the largest unblockaded port, rail hub and packing
center in the South.
So vital was Baltimore to the North's war
effort that Union troops occupied the city throughout the
Over the past 40 years, that cut-rate housing
stock has increasingly fallen under the ownership of speculators
unwilling or unable to do the basic maintenance necessary to
keep it livable. As a result, the crumbling structures have been
shedding their toxic lead skin.
Kyle carries that legacy in his veins.
Throughout his early childhood, blood tests
placed him consistently in the red zone.
March 15, 1991: a 36.
Six months later: a 32.
Four months later: a 24.
Three months later: a 27.
His head was undersized for his body, a
familiar trait among poisoned kids because lead inhibits the
body's ability to absorb iron, depriving the growing child of
the minerals necessary for normal bone growth. Lead-poisoned
kids tend to be shorter and smaller, Dr. Needleman says.
Kyle also had coordination problems and a
lopsided gait, speech and hearing difficulties, and a propensity
for explosive classroom outbursts. All are familiar traits,
because lead impedes normal brain and nerve development,
rendering children much more prone to frustration at their
inability to master basic skills.
"Today," says Dr. Law, "we'd probably
recommend him for chelation. With levels this high, over this
prolonged a period, you're well into the stage when you'd expect
to see serious and lasting deficits."
Kyle's grandmother, Bessie Smith, puts it
"He was like a time bomb," she says. "The
least little thing and he'd go off. He'd snap."
A courageous and very tired woman of 50, Smith
does not shrink from telling her grandson's story. She
volunteered to release all his records and to have his
caretakers discuss his case.
"This has got to stop somewhere," she says,
sitting in the living room of a tiny two-bedroom rowhouse in the
500 block of N. Collington Ave. that she shares with four
grandchildren. "All these kids, too many kids, they're all over
the streets dealing drugs and fighting and shooting each other.
I'm afraid that's where Kyle is headed.
"I know that's where he's headed."
Smith acknowledges that her daughter, Kyle's
mother, has a long history of drug abuse and used cocaine when
pregnant. That's how Smith wound up with legal custody of Kyle
and his brother, scraping to get by on $417 a month in public
assistance in a house smaller than a mobile home.
The children have trailed behind her almost
since birth, clinging to their grandmother as their only
One by one, they have been poisoned by lead.
Kyle was the first. It happened in the 900 block of N. Patterson
Park Ave. in June 1989, Health Department records show.
"He was a 26 then," Smith recounts. "But that
was just the beginning. It just went up and up and up from
there. And he got worse and worse and worse."
Alarmed by blood test results that showed
Kyle rapidly rising over a 30, Smith packed up the kids and
moved to the 500 block of N. Duncan, then the 2400 block of E.
Eager, then finally to Collington Avenue in 1993. By then, all
four had been poisoned, and Kyle was riding a roller coaster of
alarming lead tests.
It was lodged in his bones, almost certainly
in his teeth. He had been disciplined or suspended from three
schools. Last fall, he was arrested at Highlandtown Middle for
showing up in the schoolyard while on suspension -- armed with a
set of heavy steel bolt cutters.
"That's when they brought me into court to
review my court-appointed guardianship," Smith says. "All I
could think was, `Hallelujah, maybe now I'll finally get some
help.' Then he tried to kill himself."
Alerted by Kyle's brother that the boy was
lying in the middle of McCulloh Street, teachers from Booker T.
Washington Middle School rushed out and dragged him from harm's
way on Oct. 14.
In a matter of weeks, he had transited through
one hospital, a state youth detention center and at least two
hearings before being placed at St. Vincent's Center in Timonium
shortly before Christmas. The sheltered special education school
treats kids with serious learning disabilities and emotional
There, he was assessed as a level-two suicide
risk on a scale of three. Two medications were prescribed to
control his aggressive behavior and mood swings.
"He's well aware that he's not like other
kids," says Kenneth Young, director of the boys unit at St.
Vincent's. "And he knows he's been poisoned. How much else he
understands about why he acts the way he does is hard to say.
"He's got positives for multiple complexities
-- prenatal substance abuse, lead poisoning, neglect,
substandard housing. He's really overburdened with deficits, so
it's difficult to say which factor is most responsible. But the
most consistent, long-term problem he's had over the years is
lead poisoning, no question.
"It makes all his other problems that much
worse. And it very well could be the main cause."
`The same scenario'
On the 900 block of N. Patterson Park Ave.
-- the killer block near Rayner Browne Elementary where Kyle and
15 other kids have been poisoned -- neighbors remember Miss
Bessie and her grandkids and the terrible things that happened
"Miss Bessie's family got it bad," sighs Wayne
Booker, 48, a cook at the Johns Hopkins medical school who often
volunteers to board up vacant houses for civic groups. "But they
aren't the only ones. There's been poisonings all up and down
this block -- 911, 919, 920, 931. And it's all the same
"Landlords do some cosmetic work, family moves
in, six months later, bang, the kids got the lead."
Across the street from Miss Bessie's old
address, the next generation resides.
In a house full of cracked and peeling
woodwork, shattered plaster, worn floors and exposed electrical
wiring -- a house with a teeming rat warren in the back yard
mounded with fresh droppings and gnawed chicken bones -- Tarik
Williams' latest lead test results just came in last week.
His second birthday is four weeks away. His
blood lead level now stands at 11, more than double what it was
nine months ago. His case has been reported to the federal
government. But he does not qualify for intervention under
Quite simply, Tarik does not have enough
poison in his bloodstream yet.
"It's not at the level at which the state
ordinarily qualifies him for services," says Dr. Andrews,
Tarik's supervising physician at the Harriet Lane Clinic. "That
his lead level is rising -- at this age and in this neighborhood
-- is not unusual.
"That it has doubled in such a relatively
short period of time is concerning. But the question we face is
one of resources. We have a whole lot of kids who are worse off
than him. And the state has made a decision that his case is not
serious enough yet."
Last week, a private lead inspection paid for
by The Sun confirmed hazardous lead conditions throughout the
"Over one-third of the components tested at
this property contain elevated lead-based paint levels that were
in poor paint condition," wrote Shannon Cavaliere of ARC
Environmental Inc. in a final report to the newspaper. "These
deteriorated lead-based paint surfaces are resulting in
excessive lead-dust levels in the house (averaging between 4 and
22 times the state threshold limit)."
Cavaliere noted, however, that most of the
lead was coming from grossly deteriorated window frames in the
The single most hazardous component in older
homes, windows act as lead dust generators. As they are opened
and closed, painted surfaces rub against each other, producing
invisible clouds of toxic dust.
"For the cost of a couple thousand dollars in
replacement windows, this house would be relatively safe for
kids to live in," Cavaliere said. "It's a minor investment, and
it saves a lot of grief down the road."
City records show there has already been much
grief at the house.
At least one child was poisoned at 906 N.
Patterson Park Ave. in 1982, before Tarik Williams' family moved
in. The house was owned at the time by the same network of
corporations that owns 909 N. Patterson Park Ave., directly
across the street, where Kyle Bridges was poisoned in 1989.
Those corporations operate out of the same
address at 214 E. 25th St., the headquarters for more than two
dozen real estate firms that have been implicated in the lead
poisonings of over 20 children, records show.
Associated with those corporations as an
officer or agent -- and cited in at least five lead cases by
name -- is Marc G. Medin, 45, of Pikesville, the owner of dozens
of slum houses in the city and a sometime business associate of
James M. Stein.
"I have nothing to say, OK?" Medin said when
asked about his companies. "I'm going to go with that. I have
nothing to say."
Sun research librarian Robert Schrott
contributed to this article.
Originally published on Jan 20 2000
Immediate home repairs and a youngster
By Jim Haner
In the heart of the east-side "hot zone" lies
the 1200 block of N. Montford. Nine children who called it home
have been poisoned by lead -- including Jevonte Sanders, 4.
He breathed the invisible lead dust generated
by the opening and closing of old windows in his mother's rented
rowhouse. He crawled in it. The stuff stuck to his clothes and
bedding. In 1996, he was diagnosed.
"When the doctors first told me he had the
lead, they said he could be brain damaged," recalls his mother,
Delba Jones, 34. "Somebody tells you your baby could be
handicapped for life, it's real scary."
But Jones was luckier than most mothers of
lead-poisoned kids. Doctors detected it early. The Health
Department intervened immediately. And her landlord was Mark
Greggs relocated the family within days, tore
out and replaced the windows and doors, and coated the interior
in a thick, gleaming skin of new lead-free paint. One month
later, Jones moved back in with her three boys, "so happy,
surprised, I couldn't believe my eyes."
It was standard practice for Greggs, 46, and
his business partner, Robert Paul. Even with 35 units between
them, the two men qualified as a small operation by the
standards of Baltimore, where landlords often own hundreds of
Three months after his partner's death from a
liver condition, Paul now manages the entire portfolio. And he
says Greggs' swift action should stand as an example to others
-- and as a simple prescription to stop the poisoning of
Because the real estate market in poorer
neighborhoods is so depressed, even conscientious landlords
cannot afford to make basic repairs because they often cost more
than their property is worth. A modest grant program, Paul says,
is needed to pay for the repair or replacement of windows and
"We know that's the biggest danger," Paul
says. "And it couldn't cost more than $1,500 a house to stop it.
How hard is that to understand? We could stop the lead poisoning
of thousands of kids for 1,500 bucks a house -- a few million
"It's a drop in the bucket compared to what
this must be costing the taxpayers just to take care of these
kids. Hello? Legislature? Governor? Is anybody out there?"
A relatively small group of large-scale
landlords poison scores of children every year and control the
bulk of houses in the city's worst enclaves. By assigning
inspectors and prosecutors to target repeat offenders,
poisonings could be quickly reduced.
"I've made a comfortable living and I only own
25 houses," Paul says. "But it's hard work to do it right. And
these greedy bastards who own hundreds of houses and run them
into ground are ruining my investment because I own buildings on
the same blocks.
"I resent the hell out of it when people lump
us all together as slumlords. Some of these guys are criminals.
They should be prosecuted. But they're not."
Three city neighborhoods produce more than
half the lead poisoning cases in Maryland. But landlords avoid
making repairs by boarding up their dangerous houses, then
marketing them to unsophisticated buyers. To stop the "killer
blocks" from being recycled, Paul says, the city should demolish
"God knows how much anguish we could save
ourselves," Paul says.
As for Jones, she pays her late-landlord a
compliment rarely heard in East Baltimore.
"My landlord?" she says. "I love my landlord."
Originally published on Jan 20 2000