By Richard Salit
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — With the nation focused on Flint, Michigan's struggles with its lead-tainted water supply, officials in Rhode Island are urging passage of federal legislation to address another lead threat — lead-based paint present in many older houses in the state.
Mayors and childhood health advocates joined Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Monday to support a bill that the Democrat will introduce in Washington next week to create a federal tax credit for residential projects to abate lead hazards.
The Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act of 2016 would provide tax credits of up to $3,000 to cover half of the cost of these lead projects. The credits would be available for families with annual household income under $110,000.
Similar federal bills have failed to move forward in previous years, but supporters hoped that the publicity over the crisis in Flint will help focus attention on lead poisoning.
"This has always been a very serious problem for many communities nationwide, but there is more mainstream attention now," said Laura Brion, a community organizer and advocate for Childhood Lead Action Project in Rhode Island. "I think it's incredibly important that we increase the number of resources to help local families fix their homes."
It's estimated that 70 percent of housing in Rhode Island — much of it in poorer urban communities — contains lead hazards.
The news conference took place at Progreso Latino in Central Falls, where about 6.8 percent of children under six who were screened in 2014 had elevated blood lead levels. The rate in Providence was even higher — 8.1 percent. In all, about 1,300 children in Rhode Island, or 5.2 percent, had lead poisoning.
Whitehouse, when he was the state's attorney general, sought to prosecute lead paint manufacturers in landmark civil litigation that ultimately was unsuccessful.
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