Thursday, June 08, 2017

Legal Aid Lawyers Sue City On Behalf Of 2-Year Old Toddler Over Its Alleged Failure To Respond To Significant Lead Poisoning Problem In Rental Housing; Probe Triggered After Tenants' Young Child's Blood Test Showed High Lead Level

In Cleveland, Ohio, The Plain Dealer reports:
  • The chubby Cleveland toddler wears a long-sleeved purple shirt that proclaims she is "Daddy's little darling." The youngest of five girls, her parents say the 2-year-old is an expert at cracking smart phone passcodes. Already, she sings her ABCs.

    The Legal Aid Society sued Cleveland on her behalf last week, in hopes the court will force city officials to follow state lead laws designed to protect children exposed to the brain damaging toxin, often in their homes.

    "I don't want for her to grow up with all the problems they say lead can cause and forever be hindered by that," her 28-year-old mother said in an interview last week.

    The toddler and her parents aren't named in the lawsuit. The Plain Dealer agreed to identify the toddler only using her family nickname, 'Mama (pronounced ma-mah) to protect her privacy.

    As 'Mama's mother considered those "what ifs," a pained look washed over her face and she closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. "I just want a safe, happy, healthy baby, the way she was when I had her," she said.

    The toddler's parents said they weren't seeking to sue the city when they approached Legal Aid last fall for help with their housing situation.

    They do, however, want city leaders to understand the realities families like theirs face in finding affordable housing in Cleveland that's also safe for their children.
    Legal Aid lawyers say the suit was filed now, in part, because of the glacial pace at which the city was moving to address its failures in responding to a significant lead poisoning problem. And that, despite more than a year of attention to the issue, city health officials still were not following basic rules or the state laws in place to protect children once they are poisoned in homes, day cares or schools.

    Judges at the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals last week referred the case to a court mediation program.

    Real life repercussions

    'Mama had a test in October, as part of routine doctor visit, that showed she had 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in her blood, enough to trigger an investigation in her West Side home.

    City health officials performed environmental tests at the home in November that showed 38 places in the three-story home had hazardous levels of lead. But they failed to properly inform her parents -- and the family's landlord -- of the results, according to the lawsuit.

    Later, Legal Aid helped them get the report. It turned out the most dangerous lead levels in the home - levels four times what is deemed hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - were in the toddler's small attic bedroom, where she slept and where her toys and clothes were kept.

    When the family first moved in last spring, they picked the room for their baby because it was close to where her parents slept.

    "Now she can't go in there and she cries. She doesn't understand," her mother said.

    There are other things the little girl and her sisters can't do. They can't touch the windowsills, play on the front porch or bring in toys from the yard where the soil contains lead. No more making mud pies either.

    The parents use twice as many baby wipes now, obsessively cleaning their youngest daughter's hands to prevent her from getting any lead dust in her mouth.

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