Home > Press > Lead-safe group recommends demolition rules that would reduce health hazards

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-

A model lead-safe demolition ordinance — with clear instructions to wet down a structure before and during demolition to control the spread of dust — was unveiled Thursday as part of the ongoing effort to dramatically reduce children’s exposure to lead in the region.

Presented by the Lead-Safe Demolition Working Group formed by the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh, the ordinance and related recommendations are in a report of the group’s study of demolition policies and practices. Group members included elected officials and representatives of councils of government and housing, public health, children’s and environmental agencies.

Copies of the IOP report will be submitted to the county and distributed to the Allegheny County Lead Task Force, which requested the study; working group members; and members of the Lead Safe Allegheny coalition of agencies and experts, according to Aaron Lauer, IOP senior policy analyst. He wrote the report.

The group researched the most successful practices in other cities, focusing on demolition requirements in East Baltimore, Md., Portland, Ore., and Detroit. Protective measures have been found to reduce the amount of lead dust spread from demolitions.

“We identified those three models as best practices around lead-safe demolition,” Mr. Lauer said. “We tried to adapt those three the best we could around the Western Pennsylvania paradigm.”

The three cities have rules on what is to be done before, during and after demolition; East Baltimore and Portland also have rules for deconstruction — hand removal of lead-containing materials before demolition. East Baltimore’s is considered the most strict and is estimated to add about 25 percent to demolition costs.

Not an ordinance, Detroit’s requirements are listed as specifications when the city seeks bids for demolition jobs.

“The report is timely,” said IOP Director Samantha Balbier, “because of the extent of blight in our county and our region, the amount of demolition that’s occurring in communities right now.”

As background, the report gives updated information about elevated blood lead levels, older housing stock and the status of blood lead testing of children in southwestern Pennsylvania (Allegheny County has had universal testing since Jan. 1, 2018). It reviews the sources of lead exposure — lead-based paint, lead-contaminated house dust and soil, and water from corroded lead pipes.

Demolition practices are linked to the health effects of lead exposure, including problems with thinking, attention and antisocial behavior. No level of lead in the blood is considered safe.

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