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City Of St. Louis, St. Louis County Receive Federal Funding For Lead Safety

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis and St. Louis County will be able to increase efforts to reduce the number of children in the region exposed to lead, thanks to grants donated Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city and county both received 2.5 million dollars from HUD, although $100,000 of the county’s grant is ear-marked for a separate initiative.

According to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, the city’s grant will be primarily used to preemptively make 180 rental units safe from lead.

“We’ve been able to turn a corner from reacting to lead found in our old homes to being proactive and finding and removing it before a child can even become exposed,” Slay said, adding that the city has already removed lead hazards from more than 4000 homes in the city.

The fight against lead paint is ongoing in part because there are so many old homes in the region, and in part because homes with lead generally need attention every 15 years, said St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald.

“You encapsulate it for the most part,” Oswald explained. "Unless you tear out every wall in a home and every piece of lumber etc. that’s ever had any paint on it, essentially lead never goes away.”

In 2003, the city began an initiative to reduce the number of children poisoned with lead called Lead Safe St. Louis. The program provides free lead inspections to all city residents with children under the age of 6 and financial aid to make homes with lead paint safe. According Frank Owsald, the city collects about $3 million a year for lead safety through a tax on city building permits.

City records show that the percentage of children with lead-poisoning has been reduced from 13.6 in 2003   to 1.7 percent today. During that same period, the percentage of children in St. Louis exposed to lead moved from 34.5 to 9.8 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even low levels of exposure affect a child’s IQ, and once exposed the damage cannot be reversed. Lead poisoning has also been connected to behavior problems.

This is the seventh grant for lead safety that St. Louis County has received in the past twenty years, said Jim Holtzman, the county’s director of community development. The grants last three years and allow the county to provide interest-free loans for homeowners who qualify for their lead hazard control program. Holtzman said the city has made more than 1,400 homes safe from lead.

Washington University also received a grant from HUD on Wednesday. The university’s research grant will work to reduce fall hazards in the homes of older adults.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille

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