Lead Poisoning in Illinois
Lead poisoning is a serious risk, especially for children under the age of six. There are federal, state and local laws that specifically address this threat. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, as well as health and behavioral problems. In extreme cases, it can cause vomiting and seizures. High exposure can even lead to a coma, or death. For lower levels of exposure, symptoms can include loss of appetite, constipation, trouble sleeping, weight loss, irritability, headaches, dizziness, muscle pain, joint pain, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Although still serious, these symptoms often go unnoticed.
Chicago has one of the highest concentrations of lead poisoned children in the country. If you suspect your child has been exposed to lead, in any amount, contact a doctor immediately. Exposure can be confirmed with a simple blood test. Generally, it can be done in the office by taking blood from the finger. In Chicago, as well as other cities and towns throughout the state, there are clinics that offer free blood tests. Some children are considered at-risk and should be tested automatically – children living in Chicago are part of this group, as are children receiving public assistance, and those living in older buildings (built before 1978).
Most homes built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. It's not automatically a hazard, but it can be. A hazard is more likely in homes that have areas of disrepair or damaged surfaces. Chipping or peeling paint is a good example. If you live in an older building (built before 1978) and you see a potential lead hazard, notify your landlord right away, in writing. And your child doesn't have to be licking the wall to get lead poisoning. Small amounts, like dust, end up on eating surfaces, toys, and on the ground.
Lead poisoning can affect anyone, although children are especially susceptible to harm because their brains are still developing. Pregnant women should be careful as well, because lead exposure can cause complications and birth defects.
Lead poisoning is obviously a health issue, but it can become a legal issue, as well.
Federal law requires that tenants be notified – before signing a lease – of any known lead hazards in the home or apartment. This is only for homes built before 1978. Generally, a landlord should provide education materials about possible lead hazards and specific information about any known hazards. The landlord is not obligated to inspect the property. Federally owned or subsidized housing (such as Section 8) must be cleared of all lead hazards.
Illinois law states that if a child has a certain blood lead level that the home where they live must be inspected. The owner of the home is required to fix the problem. If there are children living in the unit, the landlord may be required to relocate the tenants while the problem is being fixed. The landlord must pay for any relocation, and should not charge for rent during the days in which the tenants are relocated.
In Chicago, the city has the power to inspect homes for lead hazards. The city also requires landlords to notify tenants, in writing, if their unit has violated any Chicago housing codes in the past year.
If you are a renter and your child has suffered from lead poisoning, you may have a case against the landlord. Like most personal injury lawsuits, you'll need to be able to prove damages. A blood test showing high levels of lead isn't enough. You'll need to prove injury, and be able to prove that it was caused by lead poisoning. If your child is suffering from ongoing illness or has a cognitive delay that you suspect was caused by lead poisoning, your case will depend on whether a doctor can testify that there is a link.
Don't try to assess whether you have a case on your own. There are a number of experienced personal injury attorneys in Chicago and throughout Illinois who handle lead poisoning cases. If you need help finding one, contact us. If you're wondering whether you may have a case, we can help with that, too. Our service is always free and none of the Illinois lead poisoning lawyers we recommend charges a fee unless they are successful.