Legislation expected to come before City Council today would ensure that more Philadelphia children are protected from lead poisoning.

The bill would require landlords renting to families with children under 7 to have their units inspected for lead hazards when they are occupied by new tenants or every two years, whichever occurs less often. Inspections must be carried out by trained inspectors in accordance with federal guidelines. If dangerous lead dust is found in an apartment, the landlord must take steps to remedy it before it's rented.

Under current law, landlords are already responsible for keeping rental properties free of lead hazards. The legislation before Council, sponsored by Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Marian Tasco, does not change that; rather, it requires property owners to show they're doing what they're supposed to when it counts - before a child is poisoned.

By the time a young child is lead-poisoned, it's too late to prevent irreversible damage. And we as a society pay the price for the rest of the child's life - in medical care, lost potential, and more. A lead-poisoned child can cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the course of his or her lifetime.

The cost of preventing lead poisoning pales next to the cost of treating it. The certification process being contemplated by Council is expected to cost $250 to $400 per unit. And each dollar invested in lead-poisoning prevention yields a return of $17 to $221, according to research by Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute. That means a $400 investment saves at least $6,800 in health-care expenses, foregone earnings, lost tax revenues, special-education spending, and costs imposed by crime.

In Philadelphia, rental properties house approximately half the children young enough to face serious consequences from lead poisoning. Ensuring that landlords are keeping their properties safe for young tenants is therefore a reasonable precaution.

For the sake of the community, our children, and the taxpayers, Council must consider this legislation's minimal costs to landlords against the huge long-term costs of caring for a permanently disabled child. The right choice could not be clearer.

Jamie M. Ware is policy director for the National Nursing Centers Consortium, which is an affiliate of Public Health Management Corp. and has been involved in lead-poisoning prevention education in Philadelphia.