Board OKs outside counsel for lead issues
Lehigh County Commissioners gave a first reading to and voted 5-4 to hire the law firm Anapol Weis to serve as counsel for the county and “several other unnamed counties” to press the goal of making much of the county’s older housing stock safe from lead contamination.
Commissioners Dr. Percy Dougherty, Marty Nothstein, Amanda Holt and Brad Osborne, all Republicans, voted against the measure at their Sept. 26 meeting.
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, 2018.
David Senoff, a shareholder with Anapol Weis, was at the last two commissioners’ meetings.
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 remediate or fix the lead paint problem in the old homes painted with the now prohibited paint.
Commissioner Amanda 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,” Holt said, “I’m not sure this is the route to go. 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 the age of 7. Second, high poverty rates in a low-income population and lastly, “a significant older housing stock” much of which was constructed before 1950.
Lead dust in houses painted before 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.
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 county fee on motorists of $5 per vehicle.
“It’s a money grab by Democrat (Lehigh County Executive) Phillips Armstrong,” said Landi. “It adds a layer of bureaucracy. We should have local control.”
In other business, commissioners commended Deputy Clerk for the Board of Commissioners Valerie Hildebeitel for 10,000 days of service to Lehigh County.
Commissioners also approved a pass-through subrecipient grant of $500,000 for Treatment Trends Inc., an addiction treatment facility on S. 6th St., Allentown.
Pass-through means 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 by the state 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 Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Human Services to “increase access to high quality substance use treatment.”
Lehigh County Courthouse will get $35,000 from the county’s capital plan to buy video conferencing equipment.
Commissioners gave preliminary approval of several nonbid contracts for professional services: $10,000 to Jay H. Gilbert Services LLC of Whitehall to transport the deceased; $10,000 to Forensic Pathology Associates, a division of Health Network Laboratories L.P. of Allentown to perform autopsies; $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.