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20 Hum. Rts. 20 (1993)
Get the Lead Out - Brother and Sister Team up to Force Removal of Poisonous Paint

handle is hein.journals/huri20 and id is 118 raw text is: GET THE

Brother and sister
team up to force
removal of
poisonous paint
By Anne O'Reilly
Michael Monheit and Maryann Monheit
Bell are brother and sister, partner and
associate in the same law firm, and co-
counsel in a class action lawsuit that
could alter the future for thousands of
America's poorest children.
Lawyers with the Law Offices of Her-
bert Monheit in Philadelphia, Monheit,
30, and Bell, 28, are spearheading a
class action lawsuit against the
Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA),
charging that poor families with young
children were knowingly allowed to re-
side in public housing contaminated
with lead paint.
Working with counsel from the New
York law firm of Goodkind Labaton
Rudoff & Sucharow, the two young
lawyers are seeking injunctive relief for
the thousands of families now living in
Philadelphia's lead paint-contaminated
buildings. The suit would force the PHA
to provide medical screening, home
testing, education, a lead-abatement
program, and lead-free housing to its
most needy citizens at a possible cost of
tens of millions of dollars.
Should the lawsuit succeed, it could
set a precedent that would impel cities
across the nation to act on the problem
of lead-based paint in publicly subsi-
dized housing.
Lodged in United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

in July 1991, Hurt et al. v. Philadelphia
Housing Authority alleges that the PHA
has known since 1978 of the dangers its
housing poses, especially to young chil-
While the class action suit seeks im-
mediate remedy for all tenants of
Philadelphia's public housing, Monheit
and Bell will eventually file a separate
action in state court seeking damages
for the children that include the cost of
medical care, special education, and
compensation for the loss of potential
Veronica Cooper, mother of one of
three plaintiff families in the case, has
tvo young children whose blood show
elevated levels of lead that can be
traced to the paint in the PHA apart-
ment in which they live. Though her
youngsters, as of yet, show none of the
telltale signs of lead poisoning, Cooper
wants a solution now. What I want is
for them to clear the lead out of here,
she says. No one should have to live
this way.'
Some 57 million U.S. homes built be-
fore 1980 contain lead-based paint, ac-
cording to a report by the Centers for
Disease Control (CDC). Of most con-
cern, say the authors of the report, Pre-
venting Lead Poisoning in Young Chil-
dren, are the 14 million homes that
contain lead paint in a deteriorating
condition. About four million of those
homes have young children who are at
special risk because lead affects child
development and can cause mental re-
tardation, learning disabilities, hyperac-
tivity, attention deficit disorder, convu-
sions, lack of coordination, kidney
damage, and even death.

At a relatively low level you have ef-
fects on development, including prob-
lems with hearing, growth problems,
and-the best documented effect-the
effect it has on IQ, says Carol Pertow-
ski, medical epidemiologist for the lead
poisoning branch of the CDC.
Lead-based paint is particularly dan-
gerous to children when it is in a deteri-
orating condition because it is at this
point that youngsters often ingest loose
paint chips and breathe in paint-conta-
minated dust. It was estimated by the
Environmental Protection Agency in
1990 that 15 percent-or about 3 mil-
lion-children in the United States have
lead levels in their blood that exceed 10
micrograms per deciliter, a level that is
known to cause detrimental effects in
According to the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry,
Philadelphia alone has more than
221,000 children between the ages of
six months and five years who have
lead levels of 10 or higher.
Some experts claim minority commu-
nities are often the hardest hit by the
lead paint situation; some go so far as to
label it environmental racism, Accord-
ing to The Crisis, a publication by the
National Association for the Advance-
ment of Colored People, a 1988 study
showed that black children living in
urban settings faced about a 50 percent
risk of being poisoned by lead.
Lead remains in a child's blood-
stream for 30 to 60 days until it is ab-
sorbed by the bones. When the lead
level rises above 45, a process called
chelation can be used to remove the
lead through drug therapy. Chelation,

Human Rights

Fall 1993

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