Bills passed to curb lead poisoning

The state assembly has passed legislation, requested by Rhode Island’s attorney general, aimed at preventing lead poisoning.

Attorney General Peter Neronha, a Jamestown resident, said approval of the three bills finally gives the state the tools it needs to enforce lead-safety laws.

“These bills contain perhaps the most significant tenant protections that Rhode Island has seen in a generation,” he said. “Together, we are making public health and safe housing a priority.”

The first bill, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer, who represents Jamestown, establishes a statewide registry where landlords must record identifying information with the Rhode Island Department of Health. Landlords who own non-exempt buildings that were built before 1978 would be required to file lead conformance certificates which are already required by law.

A second bill that passed allows tenants to pay their rent into an escrow account when there are unaddressed lead hazards in their homes. The legislation will ensure that tenants remain current on their rent obligations, and that landlords will not be able to access the funds until they address the lead hazards.

The third bill will allow families affected by childhood lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual damages, known as treble damage, if their landlord is found to have violated lead safety laws.

Lead poisoning can severely affect mental and physical development, especially for children younger than 6 years old, according to public health officials. About 19 percent of Providence children are lead poisoned by the time they reach elementary school. That number is around 15 percent in East Providence, 14 percent in Newport and 5 percent in Cumberland.

Lead enforcement has been a priority for Neronha. Since 2021, he has filed 19 lawsuits and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties from landlords who have failed to fully address serious lead violations on properties where kids were lead poisoned. As a result of actions by the Office, more than 65 housing units have been remediated following the issuance of intent-to-sue letters, negotiations and lawsuits.

As part of his efforts to help all children in Rhode Island to be tested for lead poisoning at least twice by the age of 3, Neronha is co-sponsoring two lead screenings. Health insurance is not required at the free screenings.

The lead screening days are open to the public and will be done by medical professionals. The events are intended for children between 9 months and 6 years old. They will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 23 at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, 1000 Broad St., Central Falls, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 24 at the Providence Community Health Center, 355 Prairie Ave.