Lucas County public health authorities have a new message for landlords who own properties with high lead levels: Clean them up or go to jail.
The first evidence of the county's tougher policy occurred earlier this month when a jury found a Toledo man guilty of not cleaning up the lead in a house he owned and was renting out.
Robert Buchanan, who owns the rental property at 107 West Bancroft St., was fined $250 and must serve 30 days in jail, starting next month.
Mr. Buchanan said he plans to appeal because he thinks the law is “unconstitutional.” He said lead-based paint wasn't banned until the 1970s. He said he shouldn't be punished now because the paint was legal when it was applied.
High levels of lead can cause learning disabilities, decreased growth, brain damage, and other ailments in small children. Children are most often affected because they pick up lead paint dust on their hands and then put their hands in their mouth.
Properties with high lead levels are usually discovered when a child living in the property tests positive for high lead levels.
However, one doesn't have to look very hard to find properties with high lead levels in the Toledo area.
“It's definitely a problem. There are over 68,000 homes in Toledo built before 1950,” said Jeff Neistadt, lead risk assessor for the health department.
Mr. Neistadt estimates 90 percent or more of those houses have high levels of lead that could be harmful if the lead paint in the property is flaking off.
Children can easily be tested for lead exposure at a physician's office. The health department offers free lead testing.
Mike Oricko, director of environmental health for the Toledo-Lucas County health department, said Mr. Buchanan's case was the first lead violation case to make its way through the court system.
Before the city and county health departments merged two years ago, property owners with high levels of lead at their property often were warned, but nothing further was done.
Mr. Oricko said health department officials assumed property owners would clean up their properties because loans and grants are available to help them remove the lead. But after reviewing their records, Mr. Oricko said officials discovered some property owners were falling through the cracks.
So, earlier this year “we said we're going to enforce. It's not just talk.”
Most violators are owners of rental properties. Those who live in a home with high lead levels usually don't hesitate to correct the problem once they discover it, Mr. Neistadt said.
He said 12 other lead violation cases are pending in the courts, and he expects more to be filed.