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Mahoning County gets $4.6M grant for lead removal

Program aids families in older homes with kids 6 and younger

YOUNGSTOWN — After the attention lead poisoning from water pipes has received in recent years, people in Mahoning County may be surprised to learn deteriorating lead paint is a bigger threat.

The housing stock in Mahoning County is primarily pre-1978, so paint used in the homes is more likely to contain lead, and when young children and pregnant women ingest lead chips or dust, it can have devastating effects.

But an infusion of cash from the state to the Mahoning County Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Program should help the department help more families than ever remediate the presence of lead in older homes in order to protect the brain development of infants and children.

“Paint is the No. 1 issue when it comes to lead poisoning here,” said Phil Puryear, director of the Healthy Homes department.

Youngstown officials contributed $400,000 and Mahoning County commissioners contributed $160,000 in local match money to obtain $4.6 million to engage in lead mitigation programs. The amount nearly doubled what the program received in previous years. The grant came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes.

In other grant cycles, the program received $2 million to $3 million, said David Ditzler, Mahoninig County commissioner.

The program, Puryear said, mostly handles lead mitigation for low-to-moderate income households with children 6 years old and younger. The funds can be used by people who own their homes or rent them. In rental homes, the grant will cover the cost of eliminating lead hazards up to $10,000, and any cost more than that is paid by the landlord.

The lead is not completely removed in most projects because the cost per property needs to be kept to less than $25,000. It is mitigated by replacing things like windows because of the potential to release lead dust or chips with a lot of use, covering old siding with new siding, and scrapping and repainting over other areas of chipping paint in the homes, Puryear said.

The funds support the cost of licensed risk assessments in referred properties, along with funds for the family to stay in an alternative place while remediation work is completed, Puryear said.

It can take 45 to 180 days from the time of the risk assessment until the remediation is completed, he said.

People are often referred to the program after a test of a young child’s blood is found to have elevated levels of lead in it, Puryear said.

Lead paint was used in homes until it was banned in 1978 and is often found around windows, walls, ceilings, doorframes, baseboards, stairs, porches and the exterior of the house.

Children younger than 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause learning and behavioral problems, hyperactivity, hearing loss and a lowered attention span, according to the health district.

If a family doesn’t meet the income requirements to participate in the county program, but have young children, it is encouraged to have an assessment of the danger done before renovating, repairing or repainting a home built before 1978, according to the health district.

To further mitigate the issue, gently wipe windowsills, floors, porches and other areas where children play using disposable wipes or towels or a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum, don’t disturb peeling or cracked paint, keep a coat of latex paint over top of older paint and ensure any contractor mitigating the paint is certified through the Environmental Protection Agency and the state as lead safe renovators, according to the health district.

About 30 of the 170 households that are expected to be helped in the program are already identified, Puryear said. People can call 330-740-2124 if they want to check their eligibility for the program.

The state this year expanded other lead abatement programs. The recently enacted state budget allocates $5 million each year through the Ohio Department of Medicaid / Ohio Department of Health for lead hazard mitigation in residences where a Medicaid-eligible child or pregnant woman live, and simplifies the application process.

The money can be used for renters or people that own their homes, and a requirement of financial support to use the program was eliminated. Visit odh.ohio.gov, call 1-877-532-3723 or email lead@odh.ohio.gov for more information.