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Owners focus on lead liability issues.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has used the term "ubiquitous" to characterize the presence of lead in our environment. Lead is present in most paints manufactured prior to 1960. Legislation to decrease the amount of lead introduced into the environment has been enacted slowly and, only now, has the concern for the effects of lead exposure, particularly to children, garnered increased media attention. Recent developments such as the lead crisis at P.S. 3 in New York City, has focused public awareness on this issue. Understandably, building owners are focusing their attention on lead liability.

The liability issues associated with lead exposure can be compared to those of asbestos exposure. Unlike the long latency period in asbestos related diseases, lead exposure can be measured in blood hours after exposure. In October 1991 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lowered the permissible limit on blood lead levels to 10 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood (ug/dl). Despite the new standard, the CDC has stated, "Some studies suggest harmful effects at even lower levels ... Yet no threshold has been identified for the harmful effects of lead."

The effects of lead exposure on children is a particularly sensitive area for several reasons. Since a child's body is still developing rapidly, the effects of lead poisoning can be particularly detrimental; a child's normal hand-to-mouth activity increases their risk of exposure. Once exposed, a child absorbs 40 percent of lead ingested, four times greater than the average adult. For these reasons, most of the local laws that have been enacted in areas such as New York City and Massachusetts apply to children.

Studies have shown there is a inverse relationship between blood lead levels and one's IQ; as lead levels increase, a child's IQ decreases. Even low level lead poisoning has been linked to impaired neuro-behavioral development. Other low level health effects include: irritability, weight loss, insomnia, and hearing impairment. At higher levels lead poisoning can lead to blindness, kidney failure, coma, and death. Once in the body, lead may accumulate in bones and organs and lead to long-term health effects.

The CDC has stated, "childhood lead poisoning is one of the most common pediatric health problems in the United States today, and it is entirely preventable." A California study has estimated that 20 percent of preschool children may have impaired learning skills due to lead exposure.

So who is responsible? On March 20, 1991 New York Newsday reported, "The [NY] state Appellate Division has ruled that the City [of NY] must force all Property owners to remove in 24 hours any lead paint discovered in a dwelling occupied by a child under [the age of] 7."

The City Department of Housing Preservation and Development will soon complete proposed lead legislation in compliance with this ruling. Building owners could soon to pay the price for lead paint removal.

On the federal level, legislation designed to address this issue (i.e. H.R. 5730) was introduced in July 1992 in both the House of Representatives and Senate. On Aug. 4 and 5, 1992, the proposed Bill was reviewed, amended, and cleared by the House Committee on Energy & Commerce.

Among other things, the amended Bill requires training and licensing of lead abatement contractors, the inspection of schools and daycare centers for lead in paint, water, and soils, and distribution of the findings to parents. The licensing and accreditation requirements apply to contractors involved in demolition, renovation or inspection of lead-based paint. Remodelers will not be subjected to these requirements. The bill allots $30 million a year to help schools and daycare centers meet the requirements.

In light of these developments building owners should take a proactive stand to protect themselves from the liabilities associated with lead exposure. The real estate industry experienced such liability once before with asbestos-containing materials. In terms of liability, property owners can add the word "lead" to their policies on asbestos liability. These policies usually include: * Repair of damaged materials * Testing of materials prior to disturbance * Informing tenants and occupants * Containment and decontamination of abatement areas * Proper training of maintenance personnel * Development of an operations and maintenance" plan

In one case, a prominent Manhattan management company has implemented operations policies requiring lead abatement prior to window removal. During the course of window rehabilitation at a commercial office building lead based paint was discovered. Subsequently, the managing agent, realizing its duty to protect the building owner from such maintenance related liabilities, recommended lead abatement prior to window replacement. Recognizing the potential liabilities, the owner agreed, despite the lack of regulations mandating the abatement of lead-based paint prior to such renovations.

Under proposed regulations building owners may soon be required by law to perform these activities. Until then we must ask ourselves what would a prudent person do? The best piece of advice may be to simply avoid disturbance of suspect lead based paint until consulting with an environmental expert.

And since there is no precedent, your environmental expert may only rely on lead hazard identification and abatement guidelines prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for public and Indian housing. These guidelines establish a conservative and sometimes costly approach to lead abatement; nevertheless, it's all that is now available.
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Title Annotation:owners of commercial buildings consider lead abatement legislation
Author:Gibbons, Thomas
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 28, 1992
Previous Article:Stabilizing distressed properties possible.
Next Article:RSA continues service and advocacy.

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