The Vermont Department of Health is warning of an invisible threat it says lurks in thousands of older homes, which is exposing hundreds of children each year to possible harm.
Now, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is launching a new program aimed at cleaning up lead paint.
“This is a big issue in this state,” Donovan said of lead paint. “Vermont has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation.”
Donovan said statewide, 20,000 or more rental properties may still be noncompliant with rules on the pre-1978 paint, which could chip or get turned to dust, posing health hazards to kids’ brains, nervous systems, and kidneys.
Exposure to lead paint also increases the risk of miscarriage in expectant moms, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
Donovan announced Wednesday he will wipe the slate clean on any landlords who haven’t kept up with required upgrades to lead paint.
The move means no civil penalties for past noncompliance, if landlords take steps in the next few months to improve their units.
Donovan noted that grant money may be available to help landlords make upgrades.
“What the attorney general is providing to rental owners — it’s important that we utilize it to the best of our ability,” said rental property owner Bill Bissonette.
Vermont’s deputy health commissioner, Tracy Dolan, said blood tests revealed 600 Vermont kids last year alone were lead-poisoned.
That exposure could make it harder for them to learn, or damage their speech and hearing, she said.
The Health Department said half of lead-poisoned kids live in rental housing, and 90 percent of their homes are not in compliance with the state’s lead law.
“There is no ‘safe’ level of lead in the body,” Dolan said. “It’s serious, but it’s also preventable.”
The Vermont Attorney General’s office and the Vermont Department of Health plan public outreach on this issue, especially in communities where they believe the lead paint problem to be particularly concerning, including Rutland, Barre, Brattleboro, Bennington, and Windsor.
The first of these community outreach pushes for the new landlord restoration program will be next week. The Attorney General’s Office will hold a community meeting in Rutland on September 13 from 4-6 p.m. in the Green Mountain Power Energy Innovation Center located at 66 Merchants Row.
Landlords and property owners who have questions about the program or the community meeting can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 or email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov, the assistance program wrote in a news release.
For more information on lead paint compliance and renovations, including how to find an approved contractor or secure possible financial assistance, visit the website of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.