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Weighty Issues

Posted 3/23/2005

Thank you for your very comprehensive and informative article about the status of Maryland’s lead poisoning prevention efforts (“Full of Lead,” March 9). Having been involved in these same efforts for the last 23 years, initially as a public servant and currently from within the private sector, I am keenly interested in anything that furthers the cause of lead poisoning prevention.

I have a number of comments about the article.

1) On a number of occasions in the article, statements are made to the effect that owners of “affected properties” are required to make their properties “lead free.” This is inaccurate. In fact, most owners achieve compliance by obtaining “Risk Reduction Certificates” by showing, at various times, that the risks associated with the existence of lead-based paint have been reduced, not necessarily totally eliminated. Consequently it is possible, as attorney Saul Kerpelman points out, that properties achieving this minimal compliance could expose children to lead. Having said that, however, it is my considered opinion that properties with legitimate Risk Reduction Certificates are considerably lead “safer” than those that are not in full compliance and are less likely to expose children to dangerous levels of lead.

2) The legislation supported by the Ehrlich administration to tighten up the existing regulations is a bit of a paper tiger. Its passage and implementation would likely result in less children being lead-poisoned provided that enforcement efforts are there. However, it appears that a recent decision by the Ehrlich administration to withhold $375,000 in funding from the city would severely handicap the city’s enforcement efforts. This sets up a patently absurd situation where stricter regulations may not have the desired effect because of a lack of commitment to support their enforcement.

3) At one point in the article it is stated that “some members of the lead-poisoning advocacy community believe the (CECLP’s public equivocation on Bill 04-1276 is indicative of the organization’s conflicting prerogatives: The organization must reach out to landlords and help affected families.” I think this is an accurate description of the very delicate position in which the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning finds itself. It is indeed in the middle of the potentially competing/conflicting interests of landlords, legislators, regulators, local government officials, and tenants and their advocates. Heretofore, the CECLP has done a good job of dealing equitably and sensitively with these interested parties. I hope that the Coalition continues to be a significant player in the Maryland lead poisoning prevention efforts because I do believe that, despite some criticism to the contrary, it continues to have the best interest of the children at heart.

Jim McCabe
President, Leadtec Services Inc.

Your article “Full of Lead” started out as a welcome reminder of Baltimore City’s lead paint problem. The review of disturbing new research on the causal link between lead poisoning and the city’s high rate of criminal violence was a real eye opener. I was surprised that the article then degenerated into gossip-mongering about a dispute between two nonprofits engaged in the fight against lead poisoning. I reread the article looking for some salacious facts but found only vague innuendo that the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning is somehow “ambiguous” about lead enforcement. The basis for that charge? CECLP did not want to take up time on a meeting agenda to discuss a pro-landlord bill in City Council that CECLP had already managed to kill despite pressure from the mayor. Please! The landlords must be laughing all the way to the bank while City Paper attacks CECLP.

Anne Johnson

Stephen Janis responds: On the date of the meeting I covered, Oct. 20, 2004, City Council Bill 04-1276 was still very much alive. The fact that the CECLP seemed reluctant to discuss what was potentially a quite harmful bill during the meeting with other advocates was a point of conflict, which I simply reported. The coalition’s hiring of Schwartz and Metz, the lobbying firm that had previously represented the National Paint and Coating Association, to work on its behalf in Annapolis is a fact, not innuendo, and difficult to explain in the context of the organization’s stated and ongoing agenda.

The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning commends City Paper for presenting a thorough article on childhood lead poisoning. Such reporting continues to keep a public awareness on an illness which has a horrible history in Baltimore City and which can be eliminated.

While there is yet much to be done, your article did not convey the progress that has been made. Of the children five years or younger tested for lead poisoning from 1971-1981, 7.7 percent had elevated lead levels; and at that time the triggering level was 30 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Projected onto the total number of children 5 and under in the 1980 U.S. Census (61,849), that equals 4,763 children. Based on the data in your article, in 2003 in Baltimore City, 160 children had blood lead levels of 20 micrograms per deciliter, or more out of a total of 51,892 children tested. That equals 0.3 percent. This is one of the few public-health issues in which such dramatic progress has been made. The potential for complete elimination is possible by 2010. It is also true that much of the dramatic improvement has been due to the work of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

Concerning City Council Bill 04-1276, the coalition was the first advocacy organization to wave the red flag on this bill. We were instrumental in working with our advocacy partners and members of the City Council to ensure that the bill did not go forward.

The Ehrlich administration bill contains some very positive steps. Amendments are needed and we look forward to working with our advocacy partners to get the best law possible.

For the last 20 years, the effort to end childhood lead poisoning has been led by the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning; we will continue to improve the state legal structure and administrative infrastructure to see that childhood lead poisoning is eliminated by 2010.

Mark Sissman, President
Anne Blumenberg, Chair
Policy and Program Committee, Coalition
to End Childhood Lead Poisoning

Note: Please see “Heavy Metal” for more on this story.

Rebel Music

I am writing in regard to Mikael Wood’s article on M.I.A (“Tamil Tiger Beats,” Music, March 9). Woods attempts to break down her latest album for the readers, but I’m confused as how he manages to dissect her references to produce while glossing over her politics.

He completely misses the multiple references to the Tamil Tigers (a terrorist organization whose latest human-rights violations including “recruiting” child tsunami victims), the sharp drumbeats which more than hint at gunfire, and her disturbing refrain describing guerrilla warfare in “Sunshowers,” which was enough to prompt MTV to request that she clarify the song with a statement before they screen the video.

What’s more, Wood automatically assumes that everything M.I.A. raps about must be lived experience, in a further attempt to paint her as some colorful jungle girl, so very different from us. As a Sri Lankan-American, seeing articles such as Wood’s is disheartening—he uses M.I.A.’s background and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka as exotic commodities, as means to sensationalize her music. In particular, titling Wood’s piece “Tamil Tiger Beats” just because it’s “punny” serves only to diminish the havoc and destruction that the Tigers have caused.

Himali Weerahandi
New York

Wait Out

Thanks for confirming that it’s all about the waiter and how to ascertain my value to them based on their ability to “read” people and their eye for status-symbol jewelry and purses (“Waitstaff Confidential,” March 2). Never mind that some people don’t order alcohol for medical reasons that have nothing to do with a lack of sophistication or cheapness. Never mind that for some dining out means you can order what you want, be it four appetizers or a salad. What I protest is a waiter who unisexes the table: “Hi guys.” Waiters who think donning a black T-shirt makes them chic and therefore knowledgeable. A waiter who hasn’t a clue when you ask how the chef is preparing a certain dish. A waiter who expects a generous tip despite a poor “performance” (based on the reading). Guess I have been “reading” too much into dining out.

Sharon Harrington

Dining Out On Ambiguity

I continue to be at a loss as to the purpose of the EAT dining guide (March 2). None of the restaurants seems to be rated, nor is information given as to prices, hours, credit cards, etc. Also, why is there no index by price, cuisine, and/or location? These are generally the methods most people would use to access a restaurant they did not know. Your guide requires the reader to look through every entry and then hope they know where the various street addresses are. A most peculiar notion of a dining guide.

Steve LaBash

Stop Pop Lingo

I have a bit of constructive criticism I’d like to share with you. Let me introduce myself as an ordinary Jo-lene, with a good education (Ph.D.) and a bit of creativity, but completely inept when it comes to pop-culture lingo. Yet I enjoy reading City Paper and find a lot of its Arts and Entertainment section very useful on a Friday afternoon when I’m efficiently diverting myself from work by planning fun weekend activities out on the town. However, I find that the whole music section of City Paper to be completely incomprehensible for the typical naive music-scene amateur. For one thing, The Short List would be great if a few descriptive words about the bands were included. Also, the reviews of local bands are so filled with pop-culture lingo that it’s impossible to get any idea concerning what kind of music the band plays, let alone if they are actually any good! I understand that the typical music reviewer wants to maintain his or her level of “coolness,” but please could you also include a few sentences of common descriptive English for the typical Joe and Jo-lene who just want to go out and have a good time?

Sarah Spinette

Editor’s note: This issue marks the debut of a new column from erstwhile CP contributing writer Vincent Williams. Vince will opine on pop culture, black America, and other sundry topics in Social Studies, which will alternate biweekly with Mr. Wrong.

In other column news, former web-only column Think Mink will be moving back to web-only status after this issue. Mink Stole will continue to dispense sound advice to the troubled and confused from the CP site, for which we join the troubled and confused in being grateful.

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