Landmark Lead Paint Settlement Protects 130,000 Apartments

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - One of the nation's largest property management firms has agreed to take steps to ensure that 130,000 apartments in 47 states and the District of Columbia are safe from the hazards of lead paint. Denver, Colorado based Apartment Investment and Management Co. (AIMCO) will test the units and remove existing lead paint in the nation's broadest lead disclosure settlement ever.

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Lead based paint on exterior trim (Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
AIMCO admitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it had failed to warn some of its tenants that their homes may contain lead based paint hazards. Failure to disclose lead paint hazards is a violation of the Residential Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act.

"Protecting our nation's children from the dangers of lead based paint is of paramount concern. Eliminating lead based paint hazards in older low income housing is essential if childhood lead poisoning is to be eradicated," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "AIMCO is to be commended for its voluntary disclosure and other efforts to make its housing lead safe. We urge other landlords to take their cue from this responsible action."

Under the settlement, AIMCO has agreed to test and clean up lead based paint hazards in more than 130,000 apartments nationwide - nearly a third of the 304,000 units the company manages - and pay a $129,580 penalty.

The penalty and the number of units being tested and cleaned are the largest ever in a lead disclosure settlement.

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A non-destructive X-ray fluorescence method used to detect lead in paint (Photo courtesy Kentucky Dept. for Public Health)
Because AIMCO voluntarily disclosed violations of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, the company was able to reduce its penalty. At the same time, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are ensuring that AIMCO's properties will become free of lead based paint hazards.

"This agreement goes a long way in making certain parents can raise their children in safe and healthy homes," said HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. "Not only are more than 130,000 apartments going to be certified lead safe, but today's settlement demonstrates the value of management companies and landlords working closely with HUD to prevent our kids from being poisoned."

About three-quarters of the nation's housing stock built before 1978 - about 64 million dwellings - contain some lead based paint. Of those, about 25 million housing units have lead based paint hazards such as chipping and peeling paint and lead in dust, according to a recent HUD survey.

When properly maintained and managed, lead based paint poses little risk. However, nearly one million children have blood lead levels above safe limits, mostly due to exposure to lead based paint.

Even at low levels, lead poisoning in children can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavior problems. At higher levels, lead can damage a child's kidneys and central nervous system and cause anemia, coma, convulsions and even death.

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Lead paint management (Photo courtesy U.S. EPA)
Almost one million of the nation's children under age six have blood lead levels high enough to impair the ability to think, concentrate and learn. While average blood lead levels have declined over the past decade, one in six low income children living in older housing is believed to be lead poisoned.

Pregnant women poisoned by lead can transfer lead to a developing fetus, hampering or altering their development.

Under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, sellers and landlords of housing built before 1978 must disclose the presence of known lead based paint and known lead based paint hazards to potential buyers or tenants. Buyers have several days before signing a contract to conduct a lead based paint inspection or risk assessment at their own expense.

The EPA adopted tough new hazard standards in March 2001 to identify dangerous levels of lead in paint, dust and soil. These standards are more protective than previous agency guidance and, for the first time, provide home owners and others with enforceable standards to protect children from hazards posed by lead, including children in federal housing.