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Health department to begin testing homes for lead

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By Ian Neligh

Houses in the county will be checked this spring for the risk of poisoning from lead-based paint, thanks to a $97,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The money will be used for a home survey, voluntary blood testing for those at risk of paint poisoning, and education on the risks. It is a joint effort between the Clear Creek County Public and Environmental Health Department and the nonprofit Groundwork Denver.
In children under 6, as lead levels in their blood rise, IQ scores drop proportionally, according to Groundwork Denver.
The two organizations will work to identify high-risk homes with children who may be in danger of lead-based-paint poisoning. Homes identified during a “sidewalk survey” will be notified of potential risk.
In addition, free blood tests are available at the Resource Center in Idaho Springs. Families with children under the age of 6 are encouraged to drop by anytime for the test.
“We’re going to be using this money to really do an in-depth look at the potential issues. Hopefully, it won’t be that big of an issue. That’s our hope, but we won’t know until we start looking,” said Aaron Kissler, director of public health.
“The important thing is not to be scared of this. It is … something that is totally preventable if you’re educated on it and you go through the right procedures.”
Testing will continue through this summer.
Kissler said that if a child is found to have high lead levels, the family will be given a free home test, which normally costs $300 to $400, to look for lead paint. If the home has lead-paint problems, then public health will research grants to help the family with remediation.
Kissler said that even if a house is older, if it is well maintained, there might not be a risk of lead poisoning.
Later this year, as part of the funding, the health department will sponsor education classes for local contractors on how to remediate lead-paint hazards and how to keep from bringing the risk home to their families, he said.
Kissler said he had the idea to test the county’s houses a couple of years ago.
“I started looking around and thinking to myself that it would be good to probably be monitoring children in our county for lead due to the housing stock being as old as it is,” Kissler said.
Kissler said he contacted the state to see where to begin and was told Groundwork Denver had done similar projects in Denver. Together they applied for and received an EPA grant to begin work in Clear Creek.

Identifying risks
Groundwork Denver operations director Katie Sullivan said her associates will perform the sidewalk assessments, which consist of looking for a variety of home characteristics that might indicate a high risk factor. They will not go on private property.
Some red flags include:
• Houses built before 1978, when lead-based paint was outlawed for residential use. Sullivan said there are 3,761 homes in Clear Creek built before 1978.
• Old wooden window frames that are double hung, causing paint dust to be created, especially in houses that rely on those windows for circulation during the summer.
• Exposed soil outside a house that might collect lead paint or related dust that children might play in or track into the house.
“Our hope with this project is to take a look before kids can get poisoned and say, ‘Here are the houses that might have high risk factors,’ “ Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that simple things like taking off shoes before entering the house and washing hands before eating meals can help lower the risk.
Some homeowners are reluctant to find out if their houses present a lead risk because of potential effect on future home sales, Sullivan said.
“People like to stick their heads in the sand and say, ‘I’d rather not know. If I don’t know, I don’t have to tell the next renter, or I don’t have to tell the person buying my house that there’s lead,’ “ Sullivan said. “This is for me the hardest thing, because people are doing that because they’re afraid that they can’t afford to deal with it, and my statement would be, ‘You can’t afford to not deal with it.’ “
Sullivan said the damage done to a child by lead poisoning cannot be undone.
“The health and brainpower of children is much more important than being able to check a box that says, ‘I don’t know,’ “ Sullivan said.
For more information about the testing, call Health Nursing Services at 303-567-3144.

Contact Ian Neligh at couranteditor@evergreenco.com, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.