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WRAL Investigates: Harmful Lead Levels Still Found In Some Raleigh Homes

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Because of the health risk to children, the federal government outlawed lead paint in 1978. Yet, 25 years later, it is still poisoning North Carolina children. Despite safety guidelines, some of them are poisoned in taxpayer-assisted homes.

Last year more than 100,000 North Carolina children were tested for lead poisoning. Of those tested, 500 came back with elevated blood levels. Most of those cases were blamed on lead paint in older homes. Records show taxpayer money helps pay rent for some of those homes.

Armed with a specialized gun, Zyg Gromadzki, president of Radon Testing Labs Inc. of Raleigh, helped WRAL check for lead paint in houses.

In most cases, WRAL found no lead in Raleigh's public housing, but at Chavis Heights, which was built in the '40s, Gromadzki detected lead in two out of three units WRAL randomly checked. Young children live in both units.

Since the XRF gun can shoot through surfaces up to three-eighths of an inch thick, detecting lead paint is not necessarily a health hazard. In fact, an estimated 1.7 million homes in North Carolina still have lead paint. Lead paint is considered hazardous when it's cracking, peeling and susceptible to children younger than 6 years old.

"Someone should probably come and take a look at it," Gromadzki said.

The parents of 10-year-old Tyrone Horton believe he was poisoned by lead paint when he was a toddler living in Raleigh's Walnut Terrace. Horton has various developmental and behavioral problems. He cannot even spell his own last name.

Attorney Mike Malone represents dozens of children like Tyrone. He has filed lawsuits against the Raleigh Housing Authority and others across the state.

"Each one of these housing authorities, their properties have unquestionably been the source of lead poisoning within the last decade, which is clearly unexcusable," Malone said.

Steve Beam, executive director of the

Raleigh Housing Authority

(RHA), staunchly defends the authority's efforts to alleviate the threat of lead paint.

"Lead is a poison. You've got to treat it as a poison. We do. We take it very seriously," he said.

Beam points out that Raleigh is the only authority in the state, and possibly the country, to ban vinyl mini-blinds, a known source of lead poisoning.

"Our view is we go out there and inspect on the front end," Beam said.

"For whatever reason, we continue to see kids that are poisoned in federally assisted housing," state environmental health supervisor Ed Norman said.

Norman said while he rarely sees cases where children are poisoned in public housing complexes, he continues to see cases in Section 8 homes -- private rentals subsidized by taxpayer money.

WRAL did some random testing of Section 8 homes. Most showed no lead threat; however, WRAL detected lead all over a home on Downing Street. A coat of fresh paint covers much of it, but a wipe test in the front window well yielded lead dust -- the most hazardous form of lead.

Testing funded by the RHA cleared the property in 2001 and a staffer said the home passed a visual test just this week. Lab results from WRAL's wipe test, however, show lead dust that exceeds safe guidelines by nearly four times.

Beam said RHA will conduct more thorough testing, but he points out regular cleaning is a key component of lead abatement.

"I think you can never do enough," he said. "Would I say it's perfect with over 5,000 units? Perhaps not, but I say we're as aggressive or more so than anybody else out there."

Federal regulations dictate that subsidized housing be checked on an annual basis. The only time private homes or businesses are subject to testing is when a child is poisoned. None of the children living in the homes WRAL checked have been tested for lead.


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