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Public officials demand action on Philly's lead-paint scourge

Nearly a dozen state and local lawmakers Monday called for more money and staff to combat the "crisis" of childhood lead-poisoning in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state.

Several Philadelphia council members also said the city must enforce existing laws to crack down on landlords whose properties injure families with unsafe levels of lead contamination.

"This is an issue in which we all have to work together to come up with real solutions," State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.). "We are not going to run away from it."

Last year, nearly 2,700 children tested in Philadelphia had lead levels in their blood of at least five micrograms per deciliter — the level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used since 2012 for public health officials to intervene.

But the Public Health Department checked on the houses of only about 500 children, those with lead poisoning at level 10 and above.

Lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage, including lower IQ and lifelong learning and behavioral problems.

City health officials said their efforts to address the lead scourge have been hampered over the past three years by losing $3 million in federal funding out of a $9 million program, leading to cuts of 40 of 65 positions in the Lead and Healthy Homes program.

Philadelphia did create the nation's first Lead Court in 2002 to enforce laws requiring landlords and homeowners to rid their properties of lead perils. The city however brings only the most serious cases into Lead Court, 121 cases last year.

Hughes, chairman of the state senate appropriations committee, organized the Monday news conference.