News Release

December 18, 2002

HDHHS Awarded Grant To Reduce Lead Hazards In Low-Income Homes

Approximately 300 homes with paint responsible for lead poisoning young children will undergo hazard-reduction renovations under a new federal grant and matching local funds awarded to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS).

HDHHS has received notification of approval of a $2.16 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. Bond funds from the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development will augment the grant, bringing the total project value up to $3.48.

Privately-owned or rental homes confirmed as the source of lead poisoning of low income children less than six years of age qualify for the renovations as long as they are within Houston city limits. The project, however, will target inner-city neighborhoods, areas more likely to contain older homes with lead-based paint –– the most common source of lead exposure in children.

Houston zip codes where children appear to be at much higher risk for lead poisoning are 77003, 77004, 77007, 77009, 77011, 77019, 77020, 77023 77026 and 77028. They comprise neighborhoods to the west, north, northeast, east and south of downtown.

HDHHS, which will receive funds over a two-year period, expects to begin lead removal from homes in February.

HDHHS' Lead Based Paint Hazard Control Program has renovated 700 Houston homes since 1996 through two previous federal grants. Lead-reduction activities include removal and replacement of contaminated housing components, stabilizing or enclosing painted surfaces and temporarily relocating families during the renovation process.

Elevated blood lead levels in children can result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental retardation, speech and language handicaps and even brain damage. Seizures, coma and even death are possible at extremely high blood lead levels.

As lead-based paint in older homes deteriorates, it creates dust as well as paint chips which can be eaten by young children, especially those between one and three years of age who frequently pick up objects and put them in their mouths. Renovation or remodeling can disturb lead paint. Also, a young child can easily chew on painted surfaces such as window sills and door frames in a lead-exposed home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 80 percent of all homes built before 1978 in the United States have lead-based paint in them. Houses built before 1950 pose the greatest hazard to children because they are much more likely to contain lead-based paint than newer homes. The older the house, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint and a higher concentration of lead in the paint.

The main treatment for lead poisoning is to stop the exposure. Removing the lead from a child’s environment helps to ensure a sustained decline in blood-lead levels. In some cases, medications can lower elevated blood-lead levels.

The longer children are exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that they will sustain damage to their health. Although particularly harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children, lead can harm virtually every system in the human body. It can damage the kidneys and the reproductive system and cause high blood pressure.

HDHHS screened 6,039 children for lead poisoning in 2001. A total of 2.6 percent of the children screened had blood lead levels equal to or greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the lowest level associated with adverse effects on a child.

A blood test is the only method able to determine lead poisoning.

For more information about the lead-reduction project, call 713-794-9217.

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