Investigative article spurs state senators to call for action

Sophia Pope comforts her son Vaughn before bringing him over to her mother's house. Pope and her husband Gregory Jackson sent their children to stay at her mother's home after they realized their former rental house was filled with toxic lead.

An investigative story about lead paint and its impact on Philadelphia's children, which was published in the Inquirer and Daily News this weekend, has inspired two state senators to call for action on the issue at a news conference Monday.

The story, authored by Pulitzer Prize winners Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman, and Dylan Purcell, is the first in an ongoing series called Toxic City.

State Sens. Vincent Hughes and Art Haywood, whose districts cover parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties, are scheduled to hold a news conference about the "shockingly high levels of lead throughout the city" that the series exposed, a news release said.

"Hopefully the article is a wake-up call to everybody that this is a very serious issue that needs to be confronted and it needs to be confronted in an aggressive manner," Hughes said in an interview Sunday. "These children and their families do not deserve a timid response to this problem. They didn't create it and they don't deserve it. We need to be aggressive about finding a solution."

The news conference will be held at 11 a.m. at the mayor's reception room. In addition to the senators, Phil Lord, executive director of the Tenants Union Representative Network, a tenant support group, is expected to speak.

According to the release, Hughes and other Senate Democrats have already introduced a set of bills about lead paint and will call for immediate action on them by local, state, and federal officials.

"We are always pleased when our public-service journalism inspires public officials to act," said James Neff, assistant managing editor for investigations and projects at the Inquirer and Daily News. "We will continue to report on this important topic in our ongoing series, Toxic City."

According to the investigation, in 2015 almost 2,700 Philadelphia children age 6 and under who were tested had harmful levels of lead in their blood, yet the city's Public Health Department checked on the homes of only about 500 of the sickest children.

A 2012 city regulation ordered that landlords renting homes built before 1978 to families with children 6 years old and younger must have their residences certified as lead safe. Under the regulation, proof of the certification must be provided to the Department of Public Health. But the Inquirer and Daily News investigation found that less than 1 percent of landlords comply, and health officials have collected no fines as a result of the regulation.

Hardest hit is the city's Strawberry Mansion section, where 21 percent of the children who were tested were found to have lead poisoning, according to the report.

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