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Manchester Man Admits Guilt in Lead Poisoning Case; Plea to Forging Lead Hazard Disclosure Documents is Precedent Setting

Release Date: 12/19/2001
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, EPA Press Office (617) 918-1013

CONCORD, N.H. – A Manchester, N.H. man and his company pleaded guilty in federal court today in connection with the lead poisoning and subsequent death of a two-year-old girl in Manchester in April 2000.

James T. Aneckstein and his company, JTA Real Estate Brokerage and Property Management, pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing justice, making false statements to investigators and failing to provide prospective tenants with lead-based paint (LBP) disclosure information as required by federal law. The victim and her mother were tenants in a Bridge Street apartment managed by Aneckstein.

The case against Aneckstein and his company is the first case in the nation in which a corporation has been criminally prosecuted for failing to provide federal LBP disclosure information to residential tenants. This case was investigated by civil and criminal investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston and ultimately was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Hampshire.

The investigation began after the Manchester Health Department announced in November 2000 that the girl's lead poisoning was "most likely"caused by lead paint and lead-contaminated dust in and around her apartment.

"This tragic case shows how important it is that landlords and their agents inform tenants of the potential presence of lead-based paint and the hazards they pose," said Ira Leighton, acting deputy regional administrator of EPA's New England office.

On Nov. 21, 2000, EPA inspectors visited JTA's office in Manchester to determine if Aneckstein complied with the federal Real Estate Notification and Disclosure Rule – the "lead disclosure rule" – when he leased an apartment to the victim's mother.

The lead disclosure rule requires property owners and their agents to provide tenants with an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet that contains information to protect families from LBP hazards in their homes. The law also requires property owners and their agents to disclose knowledge of lead-based paint and hazards in buildings constructed before 1978 and to provide a list of any records or reports available that describe LBP and hazards. Further, property owners and agents must have tenants and purchasers sign an acknowledgment that they have received the information and keep those acknowledgments for three years.

Aneckstein gave EPA investigators – and later a federal grand jury – forged and fictitious documents falsely certifying the victim's mother, as well as other tenants living in the Bridge Street apartment building, had been given the required federal LBP disclosure information.

"One of the cornerstones of the Lead Hazard Reduction Act is the requirement that landlords provide the information and keep a record that the tenant has received it. It's a simple requirement, something basic that requires a certain degree of honor," Leighton said. "Tragically in this case, failing to do the honorable thing meant that the mother of a young child did not receive the information they needed to keep their child healthy."

Lead was widely used in paint up until 1978. Although lead naturally occurs in the environment it is a highly toxic metal. Unborn and young children are most at risk for lead poisoning, which can cause neurological damage and affect mental capacity. It is recommended that all children under six years old be tested for exposure to lead.

Children under the age of six are at greatest risk for lead exposure. This is because of rapid development as well as the tendancy to put inedible items to their mouths. Coma, seizure or death may be related to very high levels of lead in the body. At low levels, there are no obvious symptoms, however, lead may cause central nervous system and kidney damage and loss of hearing. It may also cause reading and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, cognitive impairment and behavioral problems.

There are thousands of lead poisoning cases a year. However cases like this are very rare. The death of the Manchester girl was the first in the U.S. since 1990.

"This case spotlights why environmental laws matter and demonstrates our continuing commitment to enforce those laws aggressively when human health and the environment are put in jeopardy by criminals. We appreciate the hard work of the United States Attorney's Office in New Hampshire and the United States Secret Service for the invaluable assistance they provided in handling the forensic evidence in this case," said Michael Hubbard, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in New England.

Older cities such as Manchester, with homes built before 1940, are more likely to have lead paint in them. Poverty is also a risk factor for lead poisoning because families with low incomes are more likely to live in older housing which need repairs and remodeling to make the lead safe. Children in Manchester are almost twice as likely to live in poverty than other children in New Hampshire.

"In New Hampshire, with relatively old rental housing stock, lead paint hazards pose a significant risk," U.S. Attorney Thomas Colantuono said. "The lead paint disclosure laws and regulations are important components of the campaign to educate the public about that danger. The U.S. Attorney's Office expects all landlords and property managers to comply fully with the lead paint disclosure requirements."

In addition to lead paint in the home, children may be exposed to lead through many other sources including:

    • Contaminated soil or dust;
    • improper home renovations and remodeling;
    • drinking water contaminated from lead in older pipes;
    • exposure to improperly fired ceramics, leaded crystal, lead cans and antique or imported pottery.
Some other sources include vinyl miniblinds, lead sinkers, ammunition and exposure to burning lead-painted wood.

"The risk for exposure are many, but by far, the greatest comes from lead paint in houses," Leighton said. "Everything possible needs to be done to reduce this exposure risk, but it starts with outreach – telling prospective home buyers and apartment renters the dangers of lead and what can be done to cut down on exposure."

For more information about lead, log onto: http://www.epa.gov/region01/topics/pollutants/lead.html

For more information on how to comply with the Federal Lead Disclosure Rule or to report a Lead Disclosure Rule complaint to the EPA, log onto: http://www.epa.gov/region1/compliance/enflead.html

For specific questions about LBP and LBP hazards, call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD (TDD 1-800-536-5456).