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‘Multiple children’ were poisoned by lead in Providence apartment, R.I. claims in suit against landlord

Rhode Island Superior Court in Providence, R.I.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Multiple children living in an apartment building on Smith Street were poisoned by lead in the last two years due to hazardous amounts found in the children’s bedroom, kitchen and living areas, and in the soil surrounding the property, according to a new lawsuit filed recently against the property’s landlord by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.

The landlord, Amanda Weinberger, failed to remediate lead violations that were identified by state health officials, the suit alleges. According to the complaint filed in Rhode Island Superior Court last month, Neronha is seeking a court order against Weinberger to remedy the lead hazards, provide adequate alternative housing during remediation, and substantial penalties, of up to $5,000 per day.

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“One lead-poisoned child is one too many, and noncompliant landlords have faced, and will continue to face, the consequences of their neglect,” said Neronha.

Under state law, landlords are given opportunities after health officials conduct a property inspection to correct lead hazard violations before Neronha files enforcement action.

Between 2021 and 2023, “multiple children” from another family residing in another unit at the property were also lead poisoned, Neronha’s office said. There are children under the age of 6 residing at the property, the complaint said.

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can cause adverse effect such as damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. In adults, lead exposure can lead to cardiovascular issues and high blood pressure.

Weinberger has owned the multi-unit apartment building located at 476-478 Smith St. since October 2019, according to real estate records.

In 2021, the state health department received notice that two children residing in one unit at the property had elevated blood lead levels, which caused officials to conduct an initial inspection of the property to test paint, dust, soil, and water for lead. Lead hazards were found in a children’s bedroom, another bedroom, the living room, kitchen, dining room, front common staircase, and the rear common staircase, Neronha’s complaint said.

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The health department issued Weinberger its first notice of violation in April 2022. Four months later, a re-inspection of the property found that lead hazards remained, and a second violation notice was sent that August.

The health department issued a lien on the property in September 2022, and Neronha sent a warning letter to Weinberger, demanding that the property come into compliance with the law. Weinberger allegedly failed to comply.

Weinberger could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

Federal and state laws have helped lower the amount of lead people are exposed to, in products and where they live. Yet more than half a million children in the United States have blood lead levels high enough to damage their health.

In 2023, the Rhode Island General Assembly developed a package of lead poisoning prevention and housing bills that helps enforce lead poisoning prevention laws, and an escrow account into which tenants can pay their rent when there are unaddressed lead issues in their homes. The new laws also allow families affected by childhood lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual damages.

Since the fall of 2021, Neronha has filed 22 lawsuits against landlords who have not fully addressed what he calls “serious lead violations” where children were poisoned. More than 65 housing units in the state have been remediated following intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits, Neronha’s office said.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.