New Hampshire Legal Assistance

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NHLA receives 3-year grant for multi-faceted work to combat childhood lead poisoning

Posted Nov 21, 2016NHLA receives 3-year grant for multi-faceted work to combat childhood lead poisoning

November 19, 2016 - All children deserve access to clean air and water so they have a chance to grow and thrive. But poor children are more likely than others to be exposed to the negative health effects of environmental hazards like industrial waste, pollution and lead poisoning from paint and water. 

The New Hampshire Bar Foundation recently approved $450,000 for a New Hampshire Legal Assistance initiative to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of childhood lead poisoning in low-income New Hampshire communities. This work, funded by part of New Hampshire’s share of a national settlement with Bank of America, will improve living conditions for individual children and their families and promote better housing conditions in the most vulnerable neighborhoods of our state.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance is the state-wide non-profit law firm serving low-income and vulnerable New Hampshire families and seniors. Through individual representation, advice, counsel and systemic policy advocacy, the civil legal aid advocates at NHLA work to provide each New Hampshire resident equal access to justice under law.

In a January 2014 report, the Conservation Law Foundation identified lead poisoning as the most pressing and immediate threat to the health and safety of low-income children in New Hampshire. As the country learned from widespread lead contamination in water pipes in Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning can have serious and permanent adverse effects on a child’s intellectual, cognitive, and behavioral development. In extreme cases, it can be life threatening.

Every year between 2008 and 2013, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services reported that more than 1,000 children in New Hampshire under 6 were found to have lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter. Since fewer than 40 percent of children under 6 were included in these tests, it’s likely many more children have elevated lead levels.

Since the 1990s, NHLA Housing Justice Project Director Elliott Berry has been at the forefront of efforts to eradicate the incidence of environmental risks in housing. Berry will oversee this new effort, and will be joined in this work by Sarah Mattson Dustin, NHLA’s recent Policy Director.

“All parents want their children to grow and thrive. But low-income parents often face the invisible hurdles of lead paint and other environmental hazards as they try to provide healthy home environments for their children. The most frustrating thing is, childhood lead poisoning is entirely preventable,” Berry said. “Through this new effort, NHLA and our partners will make an important and lasting contribution to New Hampshire’s low-income communities. Together, we can improve long-term health outcomes and reach a better future for our state’s most vulnerable children.”

NHLA’s work under this grant will focus on several key initiatives over the next three years:

  • Work with the legislative Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Screening Commission to develop legislation to promote statewide acceptance and compliance with Essential Maintenance Practices, which landlords can use to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in rental housing at an affordable cost.
  • Advocate for legislative efforts to deal with the threat of lead in New Hampshire’s water systems.
  • Combat efforts at retaliation against tenants who report elevated blood lead levels in their children, and work with recalcitrant landlords to eliminate lead hazards in their rental properties and comply with relocation obligations.
  • Engage in outreach to affected and at-risk communities through community education events about preventing childhood lead poisoning and exercising tenants’ rights to mitigation or removal of lead hazards. This effort will give special attention to refugee families, who have been identified as being particularly at risk of serious lead poisoning due to factors such as nutritional deficiencies. (Indeed, one of the last children in America to die from lead poisoning was the child of a Somali refugee residing in Manchester.)