YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Department of Health has sued BSA Construction of Youngstown and its owner, Brian Benson of Parkwood Avenue, over lead-poisoning dangers involving a home at 356 E. Judson Ave. on the South Side.
It’s been home to Big Momma Childcare, a 24-hour family child-care facility, since April. The day care is not named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks a Mahoning County judge to order Benson and BSA to keep anyone from inhabiting it. The suit also seeks penalties of $1,000 per day against the owner for each day violations are found.
Aletha Temple, who lives in the home and operates the licensed childcare facility, said she did not know when she rented the building in March that it had a problem with lead.
“It has gotten me a little depressed,” she said Thursday. “This is embarrassing to me. I have to find a new place to go. I didn’t want to jeopardize my kids’ lives.”
Temple said she has been a day-care operator for seven years but is now without income. “I miss my kids,” she said.
A message was left at BSA Construction of Wilma Avenue in Youngstown on Thursday morning, but the call was not returned.
Benson is “a good person, but he should have taken care of” the lead problem, Temple said.
The Ohio Department of Health ordered BSA on April 18, 2018, to control lead hazards at the home, according to the lawsuit. The defendants, however, allowed the property to be occupied despite ODH ordering the owner to remediate the lead hazards or vacate the property until the violations were corrected, the suit states.
Brian Benson owns and operates BSA Construction, and the statuary agent for BSA Construction is Savannah Benson of Parkwood Drive, the suit states.
State health personnel visited the house Nov. 24 and discovered it was being used as a childcare facility. An ODH employee knocked on the door, but no one answered.
Lead-warning placards required by the ODH had been removed from the building, so the sanitarian reposted the placards, the suit states.
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services records indicate the facility was approved to provide child home care for up to six children at a time and no more than three children under age 2, states the legal action filed last week in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
A child resided in the property in 2017, and the child’s blood was tested in January 2017 and was found to have an elevated amount of lead, leading the ODH to conduct an on-site investigation.
In August 2017, the ODH issued a report finding that lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards were present on the property. It identified “numerous lead hazards and listed recommendations regarding methods to control those hazards,” the filing states.
In October 2017, the ODH ordered Benson and BSA to abate the lead hazards and to have an inspection done after repairs were made. In April 2018, the ODH ordered Benson and BSA to contact the ODH or an order to vacate would be issued. The letter also warned of the dangers associated with exposure to lead-based paint and lead-based hazards, especially to children under age 6 and pregnant women.
Exposure to lead, such as that found in lead paint. can seriously harm a child’s health and cause well-documented health effects, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Benson and BSA failed to control the lead hazard and were ordered to vacate the premises, the suit states. Warning placards were placed on the building in 2019 and 2020 reading: “WARNING ORDER TO VACATE. This property contains lead hazards and has been declared unsafe for human occupation, especially for children under six years of age and pregnant women as ordered by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health.”
On many occasions between February 2019 and Jan. 7, 2021, ODH personnel observed that the warning placards were missing and replaced them. The property was unoccupied, the suit states.
GOING TO COURT
But on Sept. 23, 2021, ODH personnel learned the property was occupied by Temple and her child-care facility.
Temple told ODH personnel she was never told of any lead hazard at the site.
ODH personnel spoke with Benson Sept. 23, and he acknowledged he is owner of the property. He was advised that the property was supposed to be vacant. But on Nov. 24, ODH personnel saw that the property was still being occupied as a day care. By telephone, Benson acknowledged that the facility was still occupied, the suit states.
The lawsuit asks Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction forcing the building to be vacated and preventing Benson and BSA from selling or transferring the property to another party without notifying them of the lead issues.
The suit also seeks civil penalties of $1,000 per day against Benson and BSA for each day that violations are found. The suit was filed by attorneys for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.