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EPA Requiring Disclosure of Lead-Based Paint Dangers

March 7, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Margaret and Jon Sauser had no idea that their dream house would wind up as their worst nightmare.

Not knowing the walls were covered with lead-based paint, the Sausers renovated the house in Kalamazoo, Mich., as their 2-year-old son and newborn baby toddled around, breathing the lead dust they would later learn was poisonous.

``In effect, we poisoned our children,″ Mrs. Sauser said.

She was in Washington on Wednesday to applaud a new government rule requiring homeowners to inform buyers of lead risks.

``This law is going to stop that from happening to another family,″ she said, explaining that her sons have had trouble keeping up in school and experienced other developmental delays.

The rule, announced Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency, requires owners and landlords to inform buyers and tenants about the presence of lead-based paint if the building was constructed before 1978, when lead was banned from household paint.

The EPA estimates that more than 1.7 million American children have been poisoned by paint. It calculates that about 64 million homes _ more than half in the nation _ have lead-based paint on the walls.

The new rules also give buyers 10 days to have homes inspected for lead before they close the deal. And owners and landlords must distribute a pamphlet that explains how to control and abate lead hazards.

``There is no reason why any child in this country today should experience lead poisoning. This is absolutely preventable,″ said Carol Browner, EPA administrator.

Inhaling or swallowing even tiny amounts of lead can cause brain damage, lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral problems for children under 6.

Children can be poisoned by inhaling dust generated during renovations, eating chips that may come from peeling paint, chewing on window frames or putting dust-covered hands into their mouths.

In issuing the rules, officials explicitly rejected calls to require removal of lead-based paint.

Henry Cisneros, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the need to remove the danger must be balanced with the need to provide affordable housing.

``Simply adding a cost to every single transaction in the country is too gross a response to something that might require more discreet judgment,″ Cisneros said.

It makes more sense to let people shape their own solutions, he said. For instance, some elderly couples might not care about lead-based paint and might not want to pay to have it removed.

``We are really out of an era where we can just declare a national solution to a problem this complex,″ he said.

Browner added that the EPA may issue additional rules.

In July, a national task force recommended a host of solutions, including allowing landlords some protection from lawsuits if they remove the hazard. It also suggested checking at least once a year for deteriorated paint in rental housing and doing prompt repairs.

The new rules take effect in September for owners of more than four units and in December for others.

The rules are supported by the National Association of Realtors, and real estate agents are expected to do most of the enforcing, officials said.

Violators may face civil and criminal penalties, but Browner said the EPA does not anticipate using them unless someone is guilty of a pattern of abuse.