Another Voice: Lead poisoning should be covered by insurance | Opinion

The Buffalo News recently published an article about a local property owner and manager who rented dozens of homes on Buffalo’s east side with lead paint hazards, resulting in the poisoning of at least 29 children.

Too often we see negligent landlords who ignore tenant complaints about the condition of their homes. Even when tenants have the time and money to sue landlords to force action, there is no guarantee that this will result in repairs; owners like the one in the article often easily escape legal action.

Most homeowners work diligently to maintain their properties, but unfortunately many are negligent, making lead poisoning a major problem in cities with older housing stock. By now we all know about the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan. What most people don’t realize is that children in parts of Buffalo have an exposure rate eight times that of Flint during their seizure.

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Earlier this month, the Senate passed my bill (S.6721) to address this issue by bringing an effective program from New York City to the entire state. The bill gives local governments the power to appoint a receiver who can sue on behalf of tenants. If the court decides that the property in question is unsafe, the receiver is allowed to use the rent money to make the necessary repairs. I hope the bill will be enacted soon.

For children, lead exposure often leads to health problems that negatively impact their development and can affect them for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that children with lead poisoning show reduced IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems.

Ingestion of lead paint from poorly maintained residential dwellings is the leading cause of lead poisoning in children. However, if a child in New York State is exposed to lead paint and is poisoned, the injury is not covered by homeowners insurance. In fact, current law allows insurance companies to specifically exclude lead poisoning from their policies.

That’s why I introduced another bill (S.3079A) that would help protect all tenants exposed to lead paint. The bill would require insurance companies to include coverage for injury or damage caused by exposure to lead paint in their liability policies, closing a loophole that most renters and homeowners don’t even realize not existence.

Children in our state suffer from lead poisoning and their parents are forced to pay the enormous and ongoing medical costs. Requiring insurance companies to cover lead losses is an obvious step to help solve this problem. By encouraging homeowners to proactively address lead risks, it will help break the cycle of lead poisoning that has been so detrimental to the health of our children.

Senator Sean M. Ryan represents New York State Senate District 60.

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