The state secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development told a gathering of county officials that mothers in Maryland can deliberately poison their children using lead fishing weights in order to receive housing benefits.
Kenneth C. Holt, speaking at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City, used the anecdote to highlight his support for reforming state law he said imposes unlimited liability on the owners and landlords of properties in the state.
“I heard a story yesterday: If a mother wants to put a lead weight, a fishing weight, in the mouth of their child, and take the child for testing, the lead is going to register off the top of the charts,” Holt told the gathering. “And if that child and mother live in a Maryland residence, that landlord is on the hook to provide housing for that child until the age of 18 with unlimited liability. None of that makes any sense whatsoever. So we’re going to support the Maryland Department of the Environment with trying to pursue some commonsense reorganization of that.”
The comments were part of Holt’s presentation in which he announced he would seek sweeping changes for his agency in the next legislative session.
Following the presentation, Holt said he was not actually aware of any instances in which such a poisoning had occurred.
“It was an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen and provide burden on the landlord,” Holt told reporters. “First of all, it would not be their responsibility. I don’t think I raised it as a real threat. I described it as something that was told to me from a developer that said: ‘This is a theoretical circumstance that could happen to us. Is that fair? Is that right?’ And it’s absolutely not fair or right that they have to assume the burden of something that is maybe a scheme.”
Holt declined to say how much he would want to limit landlord liability and said a workgroup was currently reviewing the issue.
“I think that there should be limited liability, absolutely,” Holt said.
Numerous state and federal agencies warn of the potential hazards from lead fishing weights. In 1998, a National Institute for Health paper reported what was believed to be the first recorded case of a child who suffered from lead poisoning as the result of swallowing a fishing weight.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, spoke on the panel with Holt.
Kasemeyer called Holt’s comments “controversial.”
Other elected officials and public health experts expressed surprise and anger over Holt’s comments, according to the Baltimore Sun.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, told the paper: “We have not heard of parents deliberately poisoning their children to get benefits,” she said.