Houston Health Department

Local health departments to use $6 million in grants to eliminate lead-based paint hazards in area homes

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Two new federal grants totaling $6 million will ensure more than 350 area homes are free of health hazards posed to young children by lead-based paint.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today awarded a $2.9 million grant to the Houston Health Department (HHD) and a $3.1 million grant to the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES). HHD’s total project value will rise to $3.6 million with an additional $750,000 in matching city bond funds from the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department.

“Every family deserves to live in a safe and healthy home where their children can live and thrive,” said Michelle Miller, deputy director of HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. “We know that housing conditions directly affect the health of occupants, and today’s grants will protect families in Houston from lead exposure and other health and safety hazards such as mold and moisture, radon, pests and asthma triggers.”

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. Similarly in Harris County, of the 21 percent of children under the age of 6 that were tested, 323 children were found to have elevated blood lead levels.

Homes of families with lead-poisoned children will receive priority for the lead-hazard remediation. HHD will remediate about 200 homes and HCPHES more than 150 homes.

“Children living in these dangerous homes will get to succeed in school and in life because of these new funds coming to our community and our local efforts,” said Brenda Reyes, chief of the Bureau of Community and Children’s Environmental Health at HHD.

HHD has eliminated lead hazards in 2,789 homes since 1996 with previous federal grants. HHD targets inner-city neighborhoods, areas more likely to contain older homes with lead-based paint –– the most common source of lead exposure in children.

Over the last ten years, HCPHES has helped improve the quality of life for more than 500 households in Harris County.

“At HCPHES we remain committed to improving the living and health standards for all our Harris County families,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director, HCPHES. “The newly awarded funding will help us continue our ongoing work of removing lead-based paint from homes and providing safer living conditions for many low-income families and children.”

Houston residents interested in qualifying in the program can call 832-393-5141. Harris County residents can call 713-274-6374.

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.