County makes move for lead safety
Lehigh County Commissioners Sept. 26, in a first reading or preliminary approval, voted 5-4 to hire the law firm Anapol Weiss to serve as counsel for the county of Lehigh and “several other unnamed counties” to press the county’s goal of making much of the county’s older housing stock safe from lead poisoning.
Commissioners Dr. Percy Dougherty, Marty Nothstein, Amanda Holt and Brad Osborne, all Republicans, voted against the measure. Nathan Brown and Marc Grammes, also Republicans, voted for the measure, as did Democrats Geoff Brace, Amy Zanelli and Dan Hartzell.
The county is targeting Sherwin Williams Company, NL Industries (formerly known as Nation Lead Company) and others relating to the county’s claims for remediation, relief of the public nuisance resulting from the manufacturing, marketing and use of lead paint, according to documents filed by Lehigh County Solicitor Sarah M. Murray who was appointed to her current position Feb. 1.
David Senoff, a shareholder with Anapol Weiss, was at the last two county commissioner’s meeting.
According to the firm’s website, “Anapol Weiss is a national leader in personal injury, product liability and pharmaceutical litigation, having successfully litigated thousands of cases in state and federal courts during the last 36 years. The firm has obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in successful verdicts, settlements and judgments on behalf of its clients.”
The proposed lawsuit’s goal is to recover money to be used to remediate or fix the lead paint problem in the old homes that were painted with the now prohibited paint.
Holt objected to the motion. “I have concerns because we have had limited time to review this while the administration has had it since June.”
“I’m not sure this is the route to go,” Holt said. “Other cities have not taken this route.”
Holt said a similar lawsuit from California has not yet been decided. She said there is a “lot of uncertainty” as to the success of existing lawsuits where municipalities have sued manufacturers.
Holt said the county could “explore other avenues” such as providing low-interest loans for homeowners.
“We are rushing into this,” she cautioned.
According to a 2014 City of Allentown report, there are three key factors that cause concern about lead in Allentown. The first of these is the large number of children under age seven, secondly, high poverty rates in a low-income population and lastly, “a significant older housing stock” much of which was constructed prior to 1950.
The lead dust in houses painted prior to the 1978 ban of lead-based paint is the cause of lead exposure to Allentown’s children, according to the report. The report concluded lead is not a problem in Allentown’s drinking water.
The commissioners also gave preliminary approval authorizing the county solicitor to hire attorney Michael Gough as outside counsel to handle “specific legal matters for the Office of Children and Youth Services,” according to the motion to appoint outside counsel.
Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairman Giovanni Landi objected to the Lehigh County fee on motorists of $5 per vehicle. “It’s a money grab by Democrat (Lehigh County Executive) Phillips Armstrong,” Landi said. “It adds a layer of bureaucracy; we should have local control.”
In other business, the commissioners commended Valerie Hildebeitel for 10,000 days of service to Lehigh County. Hildebeitel is the deputy clerk for the board of commissioners.
Commissioners also approved a pass-through subrecipient grant of $500,000 for Treatment Trends Inc. an addiction treatment facility on South Sixth Street in Allentown. Pass-through means that the grant which originates with the state, will pass through the county which will disburse it to the recipient. The grant, according to the enabling ordinance, was approved because Pennsylvania has been challenged by the opiate epidemic and has experienced over 2,400 drug related deaths over each of the last two years, ranking seventh for opiate related deaths.
The grant is part of the strategy developed by Governor Tom Wolf and the Department of Human Services to “increase access to high quality substance use treatment.”
The Lehigh County Courthouse will get $35,000 from the county’s capital plan to buy video conferencing equipment.
Commissioners gave preliminary approval of several non-bid contracts for professional services and $10,000 to Jay H. Gilbert Services LLC of Whitehall to transport dead bodies; $10,000 to Forensic Pathology Associates, A Division of Health Network Laboratories, L. P. of Allentown to perform autopsies and $10,000 to Wound Healing Solutions Pennsylvania and Delaware LLC of Barrington, N.J. to provide for wound care, clinical and diagnostic services for Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation.