I wrote a post back in February about lead poisoning and how to protect your family, but I came across a concerning article in the Chicago Tribune this week, Kids poisoned by lead in CHA housing; landlords still got paid.

While the family wasn’t personally responsible for paying the landlord, the taxpayers of Chicago did pay the bill. As the article cites, “Young kids remain at risk in part because the Chicago Housing Authority inspectors only check visually for cracked and peeling paint, rather than confirming hazards with dust swabs or hand-held scanners.” We have the technology to be more thorough, but these agencies lack accountability and funding and sometimes greed is a strong motivator for maintaining the status quo.

Situations like these —the worst of lead poisoning are part of the reason I jumped back into the legal arena to fight for environmentally injured victims in court, collaborated  with top attorneys, and why I wrote my book, Poisoned.

This article in the Chicago Tribune reminds me of a specific case I fought in 2004:

In 2003, two year-old Neveah Lair was hospitalized several times near her home in Bakersfield, California, for flu-like symptoms. Before then, Neveah had been a happy, healthy child. Doctors couldn’t find any cause for the little girl’s recurring illness.

Her mother, Jessica, believed Neveah’s problems sprang from the black mold that plagued their apartment complex. Jessica told the complex’s property manager about her concerns several times, but the management company refused to address the problem.

On the morning of February 29, 2004, Jessica walked into her daughter’s room to get her ready for the day. Neveah was dead. The coroner listed the little girl’s cause of death as pneumonia. Jessica, however, didn’t believe that was true. She vowed to prove that the mold in the apartment was responsible.                 

I visited the apartment complex for a meeting with the residents, and most of the people in attendance were single mothers with young children. They were hardworking and lived on modest means. Many lived in the apartments under Section 8 housing (legislation that allows tenants to pay only 30 percent of their incomes for rent). In short, they lived in those particular apartments not by choice, necessarily, but because they lacked the resources to go anywhere else, despite their worries about adverse health effects.

As I questioned them, they told me who had gotten sick in their families, what doctors they’d seen, and why they believed black mold was making them ill. I looked into their eyes and saw myself mirrored back. Mother after mother, they were desperate, all of them fighting to save their families from illness and even death.

Clearly, these people were too sick to stay, but too poor to leave. I made the decision right then that I would fight for them.

It didn’t take long to confirm the residents’ fears: toxic black mold existed in the apartment complex where Neveah had died, and where many others became sick.

While I was eventually able to help the young families in Bakersville, much more needs to be done to help families in situations like the one I fought and the one cited in this article.

In my previous article, I mentioned ways you can protect your family against lead poisoning, but I’ve also encouraged the readers of this blog to educate themselves so that they can advocate for better regulations and engage with their elected officials.

This article is a resource to help you better educate yourself about the necessary accountability for local housing authorities. Call and write to your elected officials. Let’s fight together for families experiencing the worst of lead poisoning.

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