CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — This National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Rhode Island is celebrating recent steps taken to eradicate childhood lead poisoning.

Exposure to lead can severely affect mental and physical development, especially in children under the age of six. In Rhode Island, one of the most common sources of that exposure is lead paint.

According to the latest data from the Rhode Island Department of Health, 19% of children in Providence have lead poisoning by the time they reach elementary school. The same is true for about 15% of children in East Providence, 14% in Central Falls and Newport, and 5% in Cumberland.

“We stopped manufacturing lead paint in 1978,” said State Sen. Dawn Euer. “As long as this has been an issue, it is still a problem, we still have unacceptably high levels of childhood lead poisoning.”

In June of 2023, the state legislature passed a package of bills to ensure landlords comply with the state’s existing lead laws:

  1. The first creates a statewide rental registry where landlords who own non-exempt pre-1978 buildings must file their mandatory lead conformance certificates.
  2. The second law institutes a statewide escrow account into which tenants can pay rent while waiting for their landlords to address lead hazards in their homes. The landlords cannot access this money until the issues are resolved.
  3. The third bill allows families affected by childhood lead poisoning to recover up to triple the amount of their actual damages, further incentivizing landlords to comply with state laws.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha requested the legislation.

“The passage of these laws took intergovernmental collaboration, community advocacy, and a staunch commitment to eliminating this significant health issue,” Neronha said. “Now that we have laws to enforce compliance, we need that same coalition to ensure that landlords are held accountable and necessary remediation takes place.”

Central Falls is one city that has taken eliminating childhood lead poisoning into its own hands. The city won funding from RIHousing and the Rhode Island Foundation and collaborated with the Neronha’s office to help landlords address lead issues in Central Falls’ numerous pre-1978 homes.

Mayor Maria Rivera estimates that with the help of the city’s new Lead Poisoning Prevention Coordinator and bilingual Housing Inspector, Central Falls has brought nearly one thousand housing units into compliance with the state’s lead laws.

“Since taking office, combating the child lead poisoning spike we saw through the pandemic has been a priority of mine,” Rivera said. “I want to thank our Attorney General and state legislators for their focus on lead safety laws passed this year, keeping the health and safety of our children front and center.”