Children Are Being Poisoned by Lead in D.C. Homes. Inspectors Are Still Approving Them.

August 17, 2018

By Terrence McCoy

Chanelle Mattocks remembers everything about that night in 2014, when lead poisoned her son.

She was giving Alonzo, then 3, a bath in a tub that her landlord had just painted to pass a housing inspection. She turned to find a washcloth, and when she swiveled back, she found the boy with bits of peeling paint in his mouth. She tried get it out, but it was too late.

The lead tests came back positive: Alonzo had more than double what the government defines as “elevated,” and he hasn’t been the same since.

Between March 2013 and March 2018, at least 41 families discovered that their homes, subsidized by a housing voucher and approved by city inspectors, contained lead contaminants, according to a tabulation requested by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act.

The District Department of Energy and Environment, which performed the count and the testing, said it inspected about half of the homes because a child living at the property, or visiting it often, had tested positive for elevated levels of lead; the other homes were investigated following a tip about possible lead hazards. The agency said that the list wasn’t exhaustive and that there may be more.

The findings again highlight key weaknesses in federal guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the District and other cities follow. Many rental properties supported by housing vouchers in the city receive inspections under these standards. But they require only visual inspections for peeling paint and don’t mandate lead testing, unlike states such as Maryland and Rhode Island.

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