Wellesley family fights mandated abatement

Fears exposure of children to dust from deleading

Our state’s mindless lead paint law finally hit middle-class, single-family homeowners, a family whose single-handed opposition to the state’s lead paint bureaucracy – the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) – was recently broadcast in the Boston-area media for all to hear.

Charles and Jane Ellis know their Wellesley house is not the source of elevated lead levels in their four-year-old daughter. The daughter’s blood lead levels spiked two months before the family moved into the house in April 2007 and have dropped to half their high point since the move-in. The interior of the high-end 5,000-square-foot house has no chipping, peeling or chalking paint. It is in pristine condition, not dilapidated. The Ellises believe the lead came from an enamel-painted charm necklace that their daughter regularly sucked on.

The Ellises produced the necklace, but CLPPP did not analyze this evidence properly. “The coating had been sucked off,” Jane Ellis said. “CLPPP had the necklace tested, but they tested for lead in the total necklace, not just the enamel on it, so of course they found a miniscule amount of lead.”

“We weren’t living in this house when the poisoning occurred,” Ellis said. “This house clearly had nothing to do with it. Since living here, our daughter’s lead level has dropped 52% and her siblings tested well below the national average, at 1.5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) & 2.6 mcg/dL.”

Hazard of abatement

Jane Ellis spoke about their family’s key concern, which is that lead paint abatement done Massachusetts-style, with scraping of intact paint, would hurt their children. CLPPP mandates an abatement process that generates huge amounts of toxic lead dust that is very hard to clean up perfectly. “All we have tried to do is protect our children,” Ellis said. “The doctors at Children’s Hospital told us that their levels will go up.

Within 30 days of abatement you have to have the child’s lead levels tested because they know the levels will go up. They know this. Some of the doctors are paid consultants for the Department of Public Health. They fully support abating even though they know it can harm a child. They are paid consultants; what does that tell you?”

In a news article on the Ellises’ situation, the Boston Globe reported the comments of a doctor specializing in lead poisoning, a lead inspector, and a lead researcher. All agreed that improper deleading and clean-up can lead to contamination of the home.

“Most telling,” Ellis said, “is what we found in research. In every other state, intact lead paint is left alone. Massachusetts is the only state that requires scraping during abatement.”

CLPPP rigidly ignores research that contradicts their overly aggressive abatement approach. Ellis went on: “A study was done in 1997 in the Boston area on children and their lead levels post abatement. Twelve months after the children moved back into the abated properties, their lead levels rose by 6.7 mcg/dL on average. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health collaborated with the researchers. But in our court case, they discarded the study as ‘junk science.’ There are very reputable studies [of elevated lead levels after abatement].”

“If the home is clean and well-maintained and children are supervised,” she said, “intact lead paint is not a risk. This is what people have said to me.” It also happens to be what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

Facing criminal charges

Nevertheless, CLPPP insisted – according to law – that the house wherein the “poisoned” child resides must be deleaded. The cost would be about $95,000, the Ellises said, based on deleading contractor estimates, including the cost of new windows and temporary relocation expenses for the family (and not counting their legal fees to fight CLPPP).

The Ellises offered to do the deleading after the children were older. They asked to do interim control, as allowed by law, or some other modified abatement, as allowed at the discretion of CLPPP’s director, until their children were older. CLPPP insisted on full-scale deleading now.

Staring at arraignment on criminal charges, the Ellises finally knuckled under and agreed to do the deleading work, more than a year after CLPPP first notified them to delead. The deleading is to be completed by August 4 this summer.

No concern for children

So convinced was CLPPP that the poisoning source was the house that they came to an erroneous conclusion. “In our case, we moved in and got a call from CLPPP,” she went on. “They came into the house for 20 minutes. Then a pediatrician called and said it was our windows that caused the lead poisoning.”

It was obvious to the Ellises that CLPPP and the pediatrician were flat-out wrong, but that did not stop CLPPP. The house had to be deleaded, forget about the facts. CLPPP was blindly locked into its bureaucratic protocols.

“You see, they have no interest in determining causation,” Ellis continued, “because causation has nothing to do with their jobs. They are enforcing a housing code. They told us that we had to do it ‘for the house,’ not the children. Their entire focus is on the house. Our concerns are irrelevant, they said. They can force you to do abatements, and the child can still have the toy that poisoned them and the state doesn’t care.”

CLPPP’s stubborn blindness to causation leads to unnecessary expense and labor. “Lead paint does not usually cause lead poisoning,” Ellis said. “Poorly maintained properties cause it. If you are a landlord, you have a letter of compliance and you are no longer liable, but you have been forced to spend money unnecessarily including legal fees, plus putting up tenants and rent reductions. It’s ridiculous.”

Contradictory statistics

Even CLPPP’s own statistics show that Massachusetts’ abatement methods do not work, but CLPPP is blind to its own facts. During the media burst about the Ellises, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health refused to comment on the specific case but put out a statement asserting that lead poisoning cases dropped by 82% in Massachusetts over the past 15 years because the state takes lead poisoning seriously.

Jane Ellis points out that New Jersey had an 83% decrease in poisoning cases over a 10-year period and the whole nation dropped 83% in the past 10 years “including states where deleading is purely voluntary,” she said. “Massachusetts has taken longer to achieve slightly less. The lead paint law is not working.”

Punitive towards Ellises

“We have now agreed to do things that are above and beyond what is required by law. We did not have to hire a deleader because my husband took the moderate-risk abatement course. We had to hire a deleader anyway. We had to agree to multiple inspections throughout the work. They are forcing us to do things that are not described in the law.

It’s not up to us as to how long we won’t be able to live here. It has to pass re-inspection. CLPPP will be involved. If they don’t like it, they can make you do this and that and something else. They can drag this on as long as they want. They are doing it because they can. My perception is they get away with what they want.”

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