ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 19 -- Maryland officials announced plans today for a $1 million pilot program to remove lead paint from homes of low-income families in Prince George's County and Baltimore.
The money will be split between the jurisdictions for loans to landlords whose buildings contain hazardous levels of lead. Prince George's officials said they plan to spend the $500,000 at Suitland Manor, an apartment complex serving low-income families that also is being renovated in other ways with federal money.
The state will wipe out the loans if landlords keep rents low to serve low-income families for five years.
The problem of lead poisoning is most acute in Baltimore, where officials say about 80 percent of Maryland's cases occur. Most lead poisoning results when children inhale dust from lead paint or swallow paint chips, and officials say that housing units built before 1950, when most paint companies reduced or eliminated lead in house paint, are most likely to contain the hazard.
In very young children, lead poisoning can permanently damage the nervous system, leading to mental retardation. At lower levels, lead poisoning can cause subtle learning, behavioral and psychological problems.
Officials said they don't know exactly how many children in the state suffer from lead poisoning, and say that most cases are probably not identified. About 750 cases were discovered in Baltimore in 1986, according to Dr. Max Eisenberg of the state Department of Environment. Figures for Prince George's County were not available.
Maryland Housing and Community Development Secretary Jacqueline H. Rogers called the program a "modest start." Removal of the lead paint is a specialized and expensive process, and Rogers said that the $1 million may pay for renovation of only 130 units. More than 200,000 units in the state are old enough to have lead paint, she said.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer promised more money if the pilot programs are successful, and Baltimore Mayor Clarence H. (Du) Burns said the situation is too serious to be ignored.
Prince George's housing official Emelda Johnson-Heller said that hazardous levels of lead have been found throughout the 700-unit Suitland Manor development. The project will remove the lead in a relatively small number of apartments, but Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening said more money has been promised if this phase is successful.