News Release

October 6, 2004


A new federal grant and local bond funds will enable the Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) to renovate 250 inner-city homes with lead-based paint, a health risk to young, developing children.

HDHHS has received notification of approval of a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Matching city bond funds from the Houston Department of Housing and Community Development will augment the grant, bringing the total project value up to $4.3 million.

Homes of families with lead-poisoned children will receive priority for the lead-hazard-reduction renovations. Ninety percent of the qualifying homes will be occupied rental properties built before 1940.

"Our goal is to end the lead poisoning cycle," said Dr. Brenda Reyes, administra-tor of HDHHS' Lead Based Paint Hazard Control Program. "Low income families tend to move often as they search for houses within their means. The program creates a healthy environment for the family living in a lead-contaminated home and for the next family that will eventually move in."

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 one and three 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, 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 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 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.

HDHHS has renovated 989 homes since 1996 with three previous federal grants. The program targets 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 77002, 77003, 77004, 77005, 77006, 77007, 77008, 77009, 77011, 77012, 77019, 77020, 77023, 77026, 77030 and 77098. They mostly comprise neighborhoods surrounding downtown.

Private medical providers and HDHHS screened 27,082 Houston children for lead poisoning in 2002. A total of 876 children screened, or 3.3 percent, had blood lead levels equal to or greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the lowest level associated with adverse effects on a child.

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.