Ex-Sunbury landlord admits violating EPA rule on lead-based paint

WILLIAMSPORT – A former landlord in Sunbury has admitted violating a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation he did not know existed.

Dennis Morgan, 75, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. Middle District Court to a charge of failure to provide a pamphlet on the hazards of lead-based paint in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

His case was one of 89 federal enforcement actions taken in 2020 aimed at protecting the public, especially young children, from exposure to lead paint.

Morgan failed to provide the required EPA pamphlet to a tenant who rented an 11th Street residence in Sunbury from August 2017 to November 2018.

A high level of lead was found in the blood stream of the tenant’s infant son when he was evaluated in August 2018.

The high lead levels, although they decreased, were detected into February 2020.

The law Morgan violated requires landlords to provide the EPA pamphlet to tenants in buildings constructed before 1978 when lead-based paint was banned for residential use.

Morgan told Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle, who placed him on one year’s probation and fined him $2,000, he unaware of the requirement until this case.

“I feel so terrible about this whole thing,” he said. He has sold his two rental properties, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alisan V. Martin, herself a mother of an infant, used the proceeding to emphasize the dangers of lead paint especially to children.

Lead-contaminated dust from chipped or peeling lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 is one of the most common causes of elevated blood lead levels in children, the EPA says.

Kristen Keteles, an EPA toxicologist, explained toddlers like to explore and put things in their mouths.

They are more susceptible to lead than adults, she said. It can cause learning delays, reduced IQ and behavior issues, she said.

The tantrums and language issues reportedly experienced by the tenant’s toddler could be attributed to his exposure to lead paint, Keteles testified.

According to Martin, the toddler’s mother raised the issue of lead warnings and testing with Martin in August 2018 and that triggered a state investigation.

When meetings with Morgan and city codes enforcement left her unsatisfied she reached out to the EPA tip line on lead, the prosecutor said.

The mother had planned to attend the proceeding but something came up at the last minute that prevented her from doing so, Arbuckle said.

Every person like Morgan who is engaged in the profit-making of real estate has the responsibility and duty to educate tenants on the dangers of lead-based paint, Martin said.

Defense attorney Joseph F. Orso III reminded the judge his client was charged only with a record-keeping offense.

After imposing sentence Arbuckle urged Morgan to advise landlords he knows of the EPA requirement related to lead-based paint.