Study: Most properties don't comply with RI law meant to reduce lead paint hazards for kids

Just one in five of the rental properties covered by a Rhode Island law meant to reduce toxic lead paint hazards for children were complying with it five years after it passed, according to a new study released Monday by Brown University.

The state law took effect in 2005 and requires landlords to take a lead awareness class, have their properties inspected and correct lead hazards, such as chipping paint.

The study looked at child blood lead levels and tax assessor and other records for rental properties in four of Rhode Island's urban core cities — Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls — in 2005 and five years after the law went into effect. It found that children had significantly lower blood lead levels in properties that complied with the law. Childhood lead poisoning can cause brain damage, other health problems or even death.

The study also found a significant drop in blood lead levels among children who lived in properties that received lead certifications during the course of the study — from a mean of 5.3 micrograms per deciliter before receiving the certificate to 4.3 micrograms per deciliter after. A measure of 5 micrograms per deciliter or more is considered elevated.

The sale of lead paint was banned in the United States in 1978, and only properties built before 1978 are covered by the law. Also not covered are owner-occupied homes with three or fewer units. According to the study, 70 percent of pre-1978 properties in the four cities were exempt.

The researchers said that while the data show the law can help protect children from lead poisoning, there are some issues with how it has been rolled out in the state.

"Legislation cannot be a highly effective primary prevention strategy if it does not cover all properties where children live and is not strictly enforced," the researchers wrote in the study, which is due to be published in August edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

It was conducted by researchers at Brown, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the groups The Providence Plan and HousingWorks RI.