Councilwoman Chambers Armstrong files ordinance to create Lead Abatement Program
The program would encompass older rental properties in Jefferson County
Louisville – Councilwoman Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8) hosted a press conference on Tuesday, April 12, to announce she filed an ordinance that would create a Lead Abatement Program for all rental properties in Jefferson County.
The councilwoman explained that the ordinance, if passed by Metro Council, would require landlords to remove all lead-based hazards from rental properties in an effort to protect the health of Louisville’s children. Councilwoman Cindi Fowler (D-14) is also sponsoring the legislation.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause permanent health issues, particularly for children under the age of six. Exposure to even low levels of lead can profoundly impact a child’s cognitive development, impulse control, concentration, and physical growth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Louisville Metro Government data from 2005 to 2021 shows that 9,823 children in Louisville tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels. However, that number is likely higher due to decreased funding for screening and the fact that many families do not have access to regular preventative care.
“We know the devastating, life-long impact that exposure to lead can have for our kids,” said Councilwoman Chambers Armstrong. “We also know what we need to do to solve this problem: ensure our kids are able to live in lead-free environments. This ordinance is a huge step toward making sure every child in Louisville has access to lead-free housing.”
Lead poisoning happens when someone inhales or ingests lead particles found in lead-contaminated paint, dust, soil, or drinking water. Prior to 1978, lead-based paint was frequently used in houses, and many homes built before 1978 still contain these lead-based hazards.
Nearly 70% of children under age six in Louisville live in a rental unit built before 1980, and 23% live in a unit built before 1950. This means nearly 18,000 children live in environments with an elevated risk of lead poisoning.
Dr. Sarah Moyer, the director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW), spoke at Tuesday’s press conference and strongly supports the ordinance.
“Blood-lead poisoning can cause long lasting, life-altering damage to a child’s intelligence, learning ability and behavior,” said Dr. Moyer. “It disproportionately affects children in low-income families and families of color. The social costs of lead exposure can be up to billions of dollars in a child’s future earnings as well as public spending on healthcare, special education, juvenile justice, and other social services. No level of exposure to lead is safe, but it can be easily prevented. This ordinance is a step in alleviating unsafe and unfair conditions and creating safe, lead-free home environments for all children to thrive.”
LMPHW lead testing data shows that children living in the northwest area of Jefferson County are at 9.37 times greater risk for lead poisoning than children in other areas of the county.
The following map shows the elevated risks for childhood lead poisoning based on Jefferson County zip codes:
Dr. Brian Guinn is an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, and he is an expert on lead poisoning and research. He spoke at the press conference in support of the ordinance.
“Lead negatively impacts almost every organ system in the human body. Perhaps most concerning is lead’s impact on the developing nervous system, specifically the brain. Neuroimaging studies have shown the effects of childhood lead exposure persist into adulthood and can cause issues with mood regulation and decision-making,” Dr. Guinn said. “By focusing on primary prevention strategies, I believe this ordinance would lead to a reduction in the annual rate of childhood lead poisoning and allow children to grow into healthier adults.”
How it would work:
This ordinance would require the owner of a pre-1978 rental housing unit to register that unit on the Lead-Safe Housing Registry, which will be managed by LMPHW. As part of registration, an owner must complete a lead-hazard risk assessment with a state-certified inspector. This assessment identifies any lead-based hazards in the home. Any unit found to contain lead must come up with a plan to address or manage the lead-based hazard. Failure to do so could result in civil penalties, with fines up to $500 for each citation.
There would be different time requirements depending on how old the unit is, and there would be specific exemptions. You can read the ordinance in its entirety by searching for O-134-22 on the Legistar website: https://louisville.legistar.com/Legislation.aspx
The ordinance was filed by the New Business deadline on Monday, April 11. It will be read into the record at the next Council meeting on Thursday, April 14. It is expected the ordinance will be assigned to the Committee of Community Affairs, Housing, Health and Education for debate.
More information regarding lead poisoning: https://louisvilleky.gov/government/health-wellness/childhood-lead-poisoning-prevention
For Media Assistance:
Katrina Helmer, Metro Council Democratic Caucus
Kristen Shanahan, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness