Volume 13, Issue 4 ~ January 27 - Febuary 2, 2005
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Gov. Ehrlich's Anti-Lead Poisoning Campaign

In a Bay Weekly interview this month, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said that he planned to focus on the needs of children in this third year of his administration. We are heartened to see him take a first step and hopeful that he will follow through.

Ehrlich's announcement that he wants to wipe out lead poisoning in Maryland in five years is especially welcome because, by all rights, lead and its dangers should be a thing of the past. Officials in Annapolis and Baltimore have been talking about the problem for decades. Maryland passed a law in the 1950s that prohibited lead paint in new residential housing. Lead paint was banned altogether 27 years ago.

Still, lead remains one of the most significant environmental hazards for children in Maryland — and not just in Baltimore, as some people think. Blood-lead testing of children up to six has showed elevated levels in every Maryland county and cases of lead poisoning across the state.

It's particularly troubling to learn that lead is showing up in the systems of more children, not fewer, than a decade ago.

Children are vulnerable because their brains and central nervous systems are not yet formed. Even tiny amounts of lead can reduce IQ and lead to learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and even behavioral problems.

Maryland had a plan to end lead poisoning before Ehrlich called a news conference last week, but we're pleased that the governor wants to put more muscle behind it.

Legislation that Ehrlich is proposing for action in this General Assembly would toughen the standard for cleanup of old rental properties, a chief source of lead. He also wants to cut in half the lead concentration in a child's blood that requires landlords to pay for medical care, end a 20-day grace period before the state can crack down and extend the lead restrictions to outdoor structures — like the playground equipment children use.

Skeptics responded by saying that the governor needs to put money where his mouth is. We weren't encouraged to read a few days after the governor's announcement that he is eliminating $375,000 for a key Baltimore program to enforce compliance with lead poisoning laws.

The Ehrlich administration responded that, yes, the Baltimore program was being cut, but $147,000 of that money would be used by Maryland's Department of the Environment for lead programs statewide.

That's peanuts and politically foolish, too. It doesn't do for a governor seeking re-election to declare something a priority health hazard, then cut money for remedies before the ink on the press release is dry.

And in the backyard of his potential challenger, to boot.

We know that he understands politics. We trust that Ehrlich, the father of two little ones, understands the gravity of lead poisoning, too.

It's early in the General Assembly session, and we remain optimistic that the governor will provide ample funding and proceed whole-heartedly with his worthy goal of ending this unnecessary scourge.

Speaking of children with lead in their blood, Ehrlich said last week, "The only appropriate number here is zero."

That same statement would apply to games politicians of any stripe might play on the subject of children's health.

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