For homes with lead, follow-up inspections may be mandatory with new Illinois legislation

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State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, defends her bill, HB 4369, on Wednesday on the House floor in Springfield.
State Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, defends her bill, HB 4369, on Wednesday on the House floor in Springfield.

The Illinois House on Wednesday passed a bill that would require health departments to conduct follow-up inspections after they tell homeowners they have dangerous amounts of lead in their homes.

Lead exposure in childhood can lead to nervous system damage and developmental issues. Despite decades of policy around lead exposure, there are still an estimated 1.3 million homes in Illinois with hazardous levels of paint-based lead contamination, according to records from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Thousands of homes in Peoria County were built before a 1978 ban on lead paint. In Peoria County, 1 in 20 children tested for lead had elevated levels of the neurotoxin in the blood. That number is several times higher than the national average, according to the Peoria City/County Health Department.

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Lead exposure can also come from water pipes. In Peoria, an estimated 10,000 homes still have lead service lines tapping into water mains. While the Lead Service Line Notification and Replacement Act, which became law in 2021, aims to address the issue, it will still take years to replace all the old service pipes leading into Peoria homes.

Public health departments in Illinois must inspect a home when they learn that a child has elevated blood lead levels. If they find dangerous lead levels, they issue a "mitigation notice" telling the owner to fix the problem.

Health departments are not required to conduct follow-up inspections, though the current law says they "may" do so.

Bill puts 'more enforcement behind it'

Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, introduced the bill and said this will bring the law in alignment with the existing practice of IDPH and local health departments.

"Most of the time, when they are given that time frame to fix the issue, it's not getting done," said Collins during Wednesday's debate. "What this legislation does is, it puts more enforcement behind it."

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The measure was passed nearly unanimously, 105-5. All five minority votes were by Republicans.

"It's not that it's a bad bill per se," said Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, who voted against the bill. "Why do we keep doing these kinds of bills when we have better things to be doing to bring fiscal stability to Illinois?"

The bill now goes to the Senate.

How bad are lead levels in Illinois?

Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms of lead (µg) per deciliter of blood (dL). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used 5 µg/dL as a benchmark for many years to assess blood lead levels, though it lowered the benchmark to 3.5 µg/dL in 2021.

Illinois had, at one time, one of the highest rates of lead poisoning in children in the nation. In 2012, 9.2% of tested children had more than 5 µg/dL of lead in their blood, compared with a national average of 5.2%, according to CDC data.

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State data also backs up that over the past 25 years, fewer kids are facing lead poisoning. In 1997, there were 185,000 children in the state with elevated blood lead levels. In 2019, that figure had dropped to 9,600.

"It mostly happens in communities of color with these old units that have high levels of lead," said Collins.

IDPH tracks children with elevated lead levels in their blood. Black children are disproportionately affected by lead exposure.

In 2019, 44% children with blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL were Black, despite having the lowest testing levels of any racial group, according to the IDPH's most recently published report.

Reporter Leslie Renken in Peoria contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: New Illinois bill requires follow-up inspections for homes with lead