Feds award record lead-based paint reduction grant to Houston Health Department

HOUSTON – Hundreds more Houston homes will be made lead safe thanks to a new grant awarded to the Houston Health Department. The $9.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the largest the federal agency has ever awarded to a local health department for home lead-based paint hazard reduction.

“We are committed to improving the lives of all families, especially children, by creating safer and healthier homes,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “One of HUD’s priorities is protecting families from lead-based paint and other health hazards. Today’s grants will help Houston do precisely that.”

The grant funds the health department’s newest lead program, the High Impact Neighborhoods Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program, which aims to serve 450 homes over five years.

The program will focus on the Near Northside and Fifth Ward, communities where approximately 83% of homes were built before the ban on lead-based paint in 1978. At least 6% of children in these areas had blood lead levels above the CDC reference value of 5 µg/dL.

“The Houston Health Department has worked extensively to address the poisoning of our children due lead paint in homes,” said Stephen Williams, director of the Houston Health Department. “We’ve made remarkable progress thanks to grants like this from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This latest grant award will save many more children and families from the debilitating effects of lead poising.”

The health department encourages those who live in the two high-risk neighborhoods to volunteer as block captains to help identify signs of lead-based paint and refer homes to the program.

“Block captains have the unique opportunity to take an active role in helping improve the health and well-being of their own neighborhood,” said Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. “This approach has been very successful in helping identify some of the thousands of other homes the health department has made lead safe and we know it will be a huge factor in these neighborhoods.”

Lead poisoning in children can result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental retardation, speech and language handicaps and brain damage. Extremely high blood lead levels can trigger seizures, coma or even death.

Every year about 800 Houston children under the age of 6 are confirmed with elevated blood lead levels.
The health department’s existing Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control program has performed lead reduction activities in 3,160 homes since 1996.

Privately-owned or rental homes contaminated with lead and housing low-income children under age 6 qualify for the lead reduction work if they are within Houston city limits. 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.

HHD’s lead-hazard 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.

To apply for free lead-hazard reduction activities for a Houston home, or to learn about becoming a block captain, call 832-393-5141.