The Star-Ledger

Newark Residents Learn How To Test for Lead

Knowledge gives tenants leverage in getting landlords to clean up hazards, organizers say

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

The use of lead dust sampling has proven an effective technique for lead inspectors and contractors who routinely test homes for dangerous lead hazards.

But the same techniques can be a powerful tool in the hands of tenants who try to protect their families from lead hazards, a group of Newark residents learned yesterday.

"That dust sample can hold a lot of leverage against a landlord," explained Lee Wasserman, president of LEW Corp., a New Jersey-based lead inspection firm. Wasserman taught lead-dust sampling techniques to two dozen people, mostly tenants, during a four-hour training session at the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

A sample found to contain lead could be used to persuade a landlord to inspect and clean up dangerous lead-based paint hazards in homes and hold them accountable for violations of the federal lead paint disclosure law, Wasserman explained.

Under the law, landlords and property managers who knowingly fail to disclose the existence of lead- based paint to tenants or provide them with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pamphlet instructing parents how to minimize lead paint dangers to children could face fines totaling more than $100,000.

The training session was the first in a series designed to certify hundreds of Newark tenants as "lead dust sampling technicians," a certification established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The technician candidates learn how to effectively take dust samples from their floors and window areas with moist towelettes, store them in plastic tubes and send them to certified laboratories to be tested for lead. It's not as simple as it sounds; the accompanying EPA manual is loaded with safeguards to protect against sample tampering and contamination as well as tips on documenting the procedure.

"Where we're ultimately going with this is, if somebody does have a problem, and they are a tenant and they want to stand up to their landlord, we want to be able to support them in that action," said John Weber of New Jersey Citizen Action, the group that sponsored the session. Citizen Action has sought but failed to gain an ordinance in Newark that would permit tenants who have serious concerns about potential hazards, to request and receive lead inspections.

The city has opposed the ordinance, fearing that some tenants will arbitrarily request inspections with little or no evidence of lead hazards. But Weber said the requests might be taken seriously if tenants are trained in lead dust sampling. Yesterday's session was not limited to renters; even homeowners, like Hugh Williams, 43, a day care center worker, found some merit in the class.

"I'm going to sample my home," said Williams, "and I'm going to sample my mother's home because she has grandchildren coming there." Phased out of paint and gasoline in the 1970s, lead is the nation's leading environmental health hazard for children, and can cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs.

A study released late last year indicates it is also a danger to grownups, with more than 30 million U.S. adults facing risk of premature death because of past exposure to the metal.

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