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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) –
It’s been four years since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, began to dominate national headlines.
Officials in Flint discovered aging pipes were causing lead to leak into their water supply, potentially exposing more than 100,000 residents to high levels of lead.
Dangerous levels of lead, however, are not exclusive to Flint.
Pediatric health records reveal one in six children living in Savannah’s historic district are living with high lead levels. That’s three times higher than what children were exposed to during the water crisis in Flint.
Unlike in Flint, health experts in Savannah are convinced the higher-than-normal lead levels are coming from lead dust particles often found in older homes, not the water supply.
High levels of lead can cause health problems, and the symptoms from lead poisoning are so similar to autism that most parents are missing the signs. Some of those include motor delay, irritability and learning disabilities.
Lead District Specialist Maria Wargovich makes house calls after a child has tested high for lead levels. She works hundreds of cases a year spanning thirty-four counties in Georgia. She says once lead is in your home, it never leaves.
According to an open records request, one out of six kids living in Savannah tested positive for lead in 2016. Over the last eleven years, more than 3,800 children living in the downtown area — including the historic district — were tested, and almost 20 percent had lead poisoning.
To put that into perspective, the CDC says in the midst of the Flint water crisis, only 3 percent of children tested positive for elevated lead levels.
According to the documents, these numbers have always been high. Just in the last year, the historic district actually improved by going down to 14 percent.
“It absolutely can cause seizures, developmental delays and significant other growth issues,” local Savannah pediatrician Ben Spitalnick said.
Spitalnick is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Georgia. He said he has treated 12 patients with lead poisoning in his 18-year career.
Lead poisoning is defined as anyone testing with a lead level higher than five micrograms per deciliter. It would take a large amount of lead to become fatal, but, if not detected or treated, the effects could be irreversible.
“Pretty much every child at age one and age two gets their lead level checked,” Spitalnick said. “Savannah has a very large historic district, so a pediatrician in Savannah knows to keep an eye out for lead levels.”
Spitalnick is also convinced that the increase levels are coming from lead particles in older homes and not the water children are drinking. The city of Savannah regularly tests for lead contamination – randomly selecting homes to collect water samples. According to records filed with the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency, the city has reported safe lead levels for the last 15 years.
City officials say they are spending $130,000 in taxes each year for corrosion inhibitors, which add chemicals to the water that helps protect people from lead contamination.
“For our water source, there is no lead in our water and you’ll see that in some of our results,” said Heath Lloyd, the chief officer of infrastructure and development. “Some of our results will actually show a zero. What that’s telling you is in the actual source of water, what happens is the lead actually leaches from the pipes or the fixtures.”
Savannah’s records for water testing say the water is safe.Those who are still curious can go to any home improvement store and pick up an at home water testing kit. Experts say it’s not scientific, but it will give you an idea if lead is in your water.
We went around Savannah and tested three homes and even the public water fountain at Forsyth Park. All of our tests came back negative. But when we tested a door frame for lead particles in a historic home built in 1933, it tested positive.
“Lead is a heavy metal. It doesn’t deteriorate. It doesn’t go away,” Wargovich said. “It’s not like a radioactive element that turns into something else or decays. It’s there.”
According to experts, homes built before 1978 could be considered unsafe for lead standards.
State law requires home-buyers to sign a lead disclosure form if the house was built before 1978. But some residents — like Sellers Roach — were unaware that these homes could actually make children sick.
“I don’t want to be a fear monger but 46 kids downtown seems like a pretty high number and 16 in our neighborhood seems like a pretty high number, ” Roach said.
Roach has three children under the age of five. She never thought her beautiful home could be putting her kids in danger..
“I’m actually really surprised by [the numbers] and again I think I take for granted that our drinking water is safe and the Flint story was such a crisis that it really scares me,” Sellers said.
Wargovich says residents should worry about the dust in their homes. When lead based paint deteriorates, it puts off lead dust. When renovating an older home in the historic district, lead dust falls to the floors. Outside, the dust from old chipped paint lands right on top of your soil, which could threaten small children crawling.
“At that age, the hand to mouth behavior is a main source of lead poisoning, and it’s normal for children to explore their environments by putting things in their mouths,” Wargovich said.
She says it is impossible to make a home lead free, but residents can make it lead safe.
“Constant hand washing. Take your shoes off at the door so you don’t track in lead dust from the soil. Clean with wet supplies – don’t dry sweep because that’ll just move all the dust around. Wipe down targeted areas like windows and doors,” Wargovich said.
These tips are directed to eliminate threats for children under the age of six. They are the most at risk for lead poisoning and the easiest targets. There is no requirement for data on lead poisoning in adults.Read More
Property owners and landlords should be aware that if a tenant or others are injured as a result of poisoning from lead or other substances which are defined as “pollutants,” there is a good chance that your liability insurance policy does not provide coverage for the tenant’s claimed damages and you will not be entitled to a defense of a lawsuit seeking damage against you.
On March 21, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed an appellate court’s first impression ruling and held that a personal injury arising from lead poisoning due to lead-based paint ingestion is excluded from coverage under a commercial general liability (“CGL”) insurance policy’s “pollution” exclusion provision. The Georgia Supreme Court further held that an insurer owes no duty to defend its insured against allegations of personal injury resulting from the ingestion of lead-based paint in a residential rental property owned by the insured policyholder.
The insured – a landlord of residential rental property – was sued by his tenant after the tenant’s daughter sustained permanent personal injury from the ingestion of lead-based paint that was present in the rental property. In response, the landlord made a claim to his insurance company to defend him against the tenant’s suit. The landlord’s CGL policy provided that his insurer had a duty to defend him, but only against suits arising from damages to which the policy applied. In response, the landlord’s insurance company took the position that the tenant’s daughter’s injuries were not covered under the landlord’s policy and, therefore, the insurer had no duty to defend the landlord against the tenant’s lawsuit.
The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the insurance company and found that the landlord’s CGL policy contained an absolute pollution exclusion that barred coverage for bodily injury resulting from exposure to any “pollutant.” The policy defined “pollutant” as “any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals or waste.” The Georgia Supreme Court, therefore, concluded: “Under the broad definition contained in [the landlord’s] policy . . . the lead present in paint unambiguously qualifies as a pollutant and that the plain language of the policy’s pollution exclusion clause thus excludes [the tenant’s] claims against [the landlord] from coverage.”
Of course, the tenant will still be able to maintain her suit against the landlord, but unfortunately her recovery will be dependent on whether the landlord can afford to pay any potential monetary judgment entered against him.
In light of the recent Georgia Supreme Court decision, property owners in Florida should likewise be mindful of controlling Florida precedent that govern in similar circumstances.
One such case decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs cases in the federal courts in Florida), affirmed a lower district court’s ruling that a city housing authority’s CGL insurer owed no duty to defend its insured against a lawsuit alleging presence of crumbling lead-based paint in public housing units. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the lower court held that lead in paint was a “pollutant” within the CGL policy’s pollution exclusion. In affirming the lower court’s ruling, the Eleventh Circuit held that “lead is specifically recognized as a pollutant under Florida laws governing pollutant discharge prevention and removal” pursuant to Chapter 376.301(32), Florida Statues. The Eleventh Circuit also noted that the lower court was correct in finding that lead is a “pollutant” under the insured’s CGL policy because lead is a chemical and the policy’s “pollution” exclusion clause specifically listed “chemicals” in its definition of “pollutants.”
At the state level, the Florida Supreme Court held that the “pollution” exclusion of CGL insurance policies applied to indoor air contamination from ammonia spills and insecticide accidentally sprayed on bystanders, thereby excluding coverage for injuries sustained as a result of the occurrence. Similarly, an appellate court in Florida recently affirmed a lower trial court’s ruling that coverage for losses caused by Chinese drywall was barred by a “pollution” exclusion in the insured’s homeowners policy. The appellate court found that the elemental sulfur and concomitant gases met the statutory definitions of “pollution” and “contaminant” as found in Section 403.301(1), Florida Statutes, and the insureds’ “policy excluded gaseous pollutants and contaminants, including vapor and fumes.”
These decisions and the federal laws passed by the United States Congress are instructive. In 1992, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act was passed in order to protect families from exposure to lead found in paint. This Act also placed certain requirements on sellers and landlords to disclose known information regarding lead-based paint and hazards before the sale or lease of residential housing built prior to 1978. For more information on the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, please visit the following website: http://tinyurl.com/424bnx2.
Notwithstanding the foregoing case law, property owners and landlords in Florida confronted with “pollution” related lawsuits from tenants or others may not have to go it alone in defending themselves should their insurer refuse to provide indemnification. Each insurance policy is different; therefore, it is important for property owners and landlords to know what coverages, exclusions and conditions are contained in their insurance policy.
(Reuters) – Since last year, Reuters has obtained neighborhood-level blood lead testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. This data allows the public its first hyper-local look at communities where children tested positive for lead exposure in recent years.
While the number of children with high lead levels has plummeted across the U.S. since lead paint and gasoline were phased out in the 1970s and 1980s, many communities remain exposed to the toxic heavy metal, the data show.
In all, Reuters has identified 3,810 neighborhood areas with recently recorded childhood lead poisoning rates at least double those found across Flint, Michigan, during the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis in 2014 and 2015. Some 1,300 of these hotspots had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher than Flint’s.
Reuters defined an elevated result as any test higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current reference number of 5 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the agency recommends a public health intervention.
The news agency obtained the data, broken down by census tract or zip code, from state health departments or the CDC through records requests. U.S. census tracts are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 residents. Zip codes have average populations of 7,500.
This newest map reflects additional data obtained this year, and includes some changes to data initially published by Reuters in a map last December.
The map now includes testing data for additional states and cities: Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, DC.
The newly identified communities with high rates of elevated childhood lead levels include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont, near the popular skiing mountain Killington, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn.
The updated map includes other minor changes. Recently, the CDC provided testing results to correct data it previously released to Reuters for Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana. Responding to earlier records requests, the CDC mistakenly released test results for all children under 16, though the news agency requested testing results for children under six – the age group most likely to be affected by lead exposure.
Still, even with the updated CDC data, the number of areas with high rates of elevated lead tests increased or remained about the same in each state.
The map now features zip code level data for Los Angeles County, California, provided by the state’s Department of Public Health. An earlier version featured census tract level results, but reporters discovered the county’s epidemiologist had misclassified some of them. The county has declined to provide corrected data.Read More
Southeast Lead Consultants provides quality indoor air testing for mold and mold inspections. Here are a couple resources if you have concerns.
If you have concerns, please dont hesitate to call 770-858-5323Read More
Schools and child care centers in Georgia would have to test their drinking water for lead contamination under a bill approved by the state Senate Friday.
Senate Bill 29 would require them to perform the tests and remediate any lead contamination by June 30, 2019. If lead is found, the facilities would be required to post results and a remediation plan and to provide them to parents and guardians of children as well as employees.
The bill also would require schools and child care centers to send the results to the state Department of Health. And it requires the department to establish rules for testing and remediation by Jan. 1, 2018.
Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who sponsored the bill, said it would “just make sure that parents know what their children are drinking in their schools.”
The bill, which passed by a vote of 50-1, now goes to the House of Representatives.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution