Attorney Kelly Mikullitz Featured in Daily Gazette Article Discussing Lead Poisoning
The March issue of Daily Gazette’s Homes Edition featured an interview with attorney Kelly Mikullitz. The article, reprinted below, details important safety information about the impact of lead exposure as well as steps families can take to minimize exposure.
The Lead Poisoning and Toxic Exposure practice of O’Connell and Aronowitz is the largest lead injury litigation group in upstate New York. Our attorneys have handled more than 1,000 cases of childhood and adult lead poisoning.
Kelly is available to discuss any lead concerns you may have. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling our Albany office at (518) 462-5601.
Lead in the home: what property owners need to know
By Daniel Fitzsimmons – Gazette Reporter
While the use of lead paint has been outlawed since 1978, many residential structures throughout the Capital Region and across the country contain unsafe levels of lead in and on many everyday surfaces that can lead to irreversible harm to children.
According to Environmental Protection Agency statistics, 24 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1977 contain lead-based paint. With older homes the percentages get even higher: 69 percent of homes built between 1940 and 1959, and 87 percent of homes built before 1940, contain lead-based paint.
The contamination is also not limited to painted walls, and can be found on standard household surfaces and even in the air. The EPA’s lead guidelines say the hazardous substance can be found on windows and window sills, doors and door frames, and bannisters, railings, stairs and porches.
Kelly Mikullitz, with the Albany-based firm O’Connell & Aronowitz Attorneys at Law, specializes in cases of childhood lead poisoning. She said while there’s no safe levels of lead for humans and precautions should be taken regardless of age, children are particularly susceptible to being poisoned as their brains are still developing and they absorb lead at a faster rate than adults do.
Mikullitz said she gets a significant amount of inquiries in the Capital Region from people whose children have been poisoned by exposure to lead, particularly by those who live in low-income neighborhoods where landlords aren’t necessarily proactive about their tenants’ safety.
“So think of the apartment housing in Schenectady, apartment housing in Albany, apartment housing in Rensselaer, they’re typically the older buildings, they’re nearing a hundred years old…they’re not as easy to keep up,” she said. “Often, unfortunately, we don’t have landlords that are invested in keeping them up so the work just does not get done.”
It is the property owner’s responsibility in New York to mitigate any lead hazards on their property, but because insurance carriers do not have to cover claims involving lead poisoning, compliance can be spotty, said Mikullitz.
And while the state has a plethora of educational programs and testing regulations, including requiring each child in the state to be blood tested at age 1 and again at age 2, the best way to avoid exposure is being proactive in identifying possible sources of contamination.
To that end, Mikullitz said there are several signs to look out for.
“Essentially what you’re going to look for in an older building is any type of chipping, peeling paint, any type of deteriorated paint at all really,” she said.
But, Mikullitz added, it’s often not the case that lead contamination is obvious.
“It can be just a little bit here or there, it doesn’t take much at all to poison a child,” she said.
She also said lead particles can be found in dust throughout the home.
“We tell people to do all of their dusting and cleaning with a wet cloth or wet mop so they’re actually picking up the dust instead of just basically throwing it back into the air where it can ingested through breathing it in,” said Mikullitz.
Mikullitz said back yards of homes that are covered in lead paint are often contaminated because the lead clings and seeps into soil.
“So as the child’s in the back yard and they’re in a pile of dirt and they’re sticking their hands in their mouth, we’re worried about any kind of contact with that soil as well,” she said.
She also recommended letting tap water run for a while before drinking it or using it to cook due to the prevalence of leaden pipes. It’s also best to cook with cold water because lead is more likely to leach into hot water.
Mikullitz said she also stresses the importance of a child’s diet to their parents, as the body actually mistakes lead for good minerals that it should be absorbing.
“So the body makes a mistake and it says if it needs calcium and it needs iron that it will suck the lead into the body because it thinks that what it’s getting it a good mineral,” she said. “So it’s really important for parents to make sure their child maintains a diet that is high in calcium and high in iron so that they’re less likely to pull lead into their body.”
Mikullitz said typically county health departments will perform a home inspection if a child in that home has been lead poisoned, but otherwise a lead contamination inspection must be contracted.
She also cautioned those living in low-income areas to be particularly vigilant about lead poisoning in their homes, as the incidence of childhood lead poisoning is higher in these areas.
“We do find [lead contamination] is higher in lower income areas and that’s usually because these are older homes,” said Mikullitz.
She added that in her experience, often lower-income rental tenants are afraid to make complaints and if they do make complaints they’re not properly addressed.
“What we find is things like that don’t tend to be remedied until we have a child that’s poisoned,” said Mikullitz. “And unfortunately it’s usually lower income families that don’t have the ability to get out of these environments, and they’ll typically move from one hazard apartment to another.”
“You wouldn’t believe the number of families I’ve represented that have literally moved from one horrifically hazardous apartment to another, to another, to another, they can’t get away from it,” she added.
One option for homeowners or renters before scheduling a lead inspection is home test kits sold at hardware stores. Ace Hardware and The Home Depot, both of which have several locations throughout the Capital Region, stock several different products aimed at detecting lead levels in water and on surfaces.
At Ace Hardware in Johnstown, associate Matt Fosmire said such products sell “fairly decent” in the area.
“You’ve got a lot of old houses around here, so there’s good chances of lead being present,” he said.
The store sells an instant lead check for around $26 that uses a swab that turns different colors depending on the level of lead found on a particular surface. Fosmire said according to the store’s inventory records, four of those tests – manufactured by a company called Lead Check – have been sold in the last year.
In the $12 range are two products manufactured by a company called Pro Lab designed to test lead on surfaces and in water. The lead surface test provides results instantly or a sample can be sent to a lab for further analysis, which will result in an additional fee. Fosmire said the store has sold six of those kits in the last year.
The lead in water test requires sending a sample into a lab for analysis, but uses EPA-approved lab methods and guarantees results within two weeks of receipt of the test sample. The lab fee for that product, of which one has been sold at the Johnstown Ace Hardware in the past year, is $30. A pre-paid postage and protective mailing tube is included in the kit.