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Health and Human Services

Contacts: Kathy Barton
Porfirio Villarreal

HDHHS to use $3 million grant to eliminate lead-based paint hazards in Houston homes

A new federal grant will enable the Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) to make 200 inner-city homes safe from lead-based paint, a health risk to young, developing children.

HDHHS received today a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Matching city bond funds from the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development department will bring the total project value up to $3.9 million.

“HUD is committed to providing healthy and safe homes as part of our mission to help make the nation’s housing more healthy and sustainable,” said Jon Gant, director of HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control.  “This grant will help Houston and its communities to protect families and children from significant health and safety hazards.”

Homes of families with lead-poisoned children will receive priority for the lead-hazard remediation. Every year nearly 300 Houston children under the age of 6 are confirmed with elevated blood lead levels. The figure could be higher as only about 20 percent of Houston’s 210,474 children are screened for lead poisoning.

“We will be able to directly protect 200 families and about 600 children from becoming lead poisoned, said Brenda Reyes, chief of the Bureau of Community and Children’s Environmental Health at HDHHS. “The children living in these dangerous homes will not be denied an opportunity to succeed in school and in life.”

The funds will also help Houston increase the pool of lead safe workers, inspectors and supervisors.

HDHHS has renovated 2,156 homes since 1996 with previous federal grants. HDHHHS targets inner-city neighborhoods, areas more likely to contain older homes with lead-based paint –– the most common source of lead exposure in children.

As lead-based paint in older homes deteriorates, it creates contaminated dust as well as paint chips that can be eaten by young children, especially those between 1 and 3 years of age who frequently pick up objects and put them in their mouths. Home 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.

Lead-reduction activities include removal and replacement of contaminated housing components such as doors, windows and woodwork, stabilizing or enclosing painted surfaces and temporarily relocating families during the renovation process to ensure that children are not further lead poisoned. The relocation, provided at no cost to families, takes into consideration each household’s school, employment and transportation needs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 80 percent of all homes built before 1978 in the United States contain lead-based paint. 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 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. Lead can harm virtually every system in the human body, but it is especially damaging to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children. It can damage the kidneys and the reproductive system and cause high blood pressure.

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

Symptoms include headaches, irritability, abdominal pain, vomiting, anemia, weight loss, poor attention span, noticeable learning difficulty, slowed speech development, hyperactivity and muscle aches. Symptoms, however, do not develop in most children, and if so, they usually become apparent several years after the lead poisoning began or occurred.

For more information, call 832-393-5141.