In the 1995 comedy romp “Tommy Boy,” an auto parts executive asks a grinning, lovably moronic Chris Farley, “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a kid?”
It’s not an uncommon joke, but the real medical threat posed by lead dust exposure and the ingestion of lead paint isn’t quite so funny. Children under 6 and pregnant women’s unborn children are the most at-risk for poisoning.
Lead inhalation or ingestion can cause learning disabilities, anemia, behavioral problems, kidney damage, and poor body and muscle growth and coordination.
Some researchers link childhood lead poisoning to violent crime and educational failure, according to The Washington Post.
And a study published last year in the scholarly journal Environmental Research suggests that the rise in SAT scores from 1953 to 2003 tracks the decline of lead blood levels in the general population so closely that the study hypothesizes at least half of the change in scores is a result of these declines.
And the older your home is, the higher the chance that it contains some lead hazard.
Lead-based paint was banned from residential use in 1978; homes built between 1960 and 1978 have a 24 percent chance of containing lead, between 1940 and 1960 a 69 percent chance, and pre-1940 an 87 percent chance.
When lead paint deteriorates and becomes cracked or chipped, it releases microscopic lead dust into the air which can then be inhaled.
“Lead hazard relates directly to the age of the house,” said David Rogers, Naugatuck Valley Health District (NVHD) Assistant Director of Environmental Health. “… although there has been substantial new construction throughout the valley in recent years, census data show that 48 percent of valley housing stock is pre-1960 construction or even older.”
But if your home was built before 1978 and contains lead hazards, you may be eligible for as much as a 75 percent subsidization of lead-safe repairs through the Naugatuck Valley Emends Lead Hazards program (NauVEL).
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently granted the NVHD a $3 million, three-year grant to help protect those most vulnerable to lead hazards.
Interested homeowners must meet the following NauVEL eligibility requirements:
- You must live in one of six towns that comprise the NVHD—Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck, Seymour or Shelton
- Your home must have been built before 1978 and contain lead hazards
- A child must live in the home or visit often
- You must meet HUD regional income requirements
- You must be up-to-date on mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance.
Call the NauVEL office at (203) 828-9925 for more information or to screen for eligibility and apply.
Fourty-four children within the NVHD were found to have elevated blood lead levels in 2007; less than one-third of all valley children were screened for lead, so that number may well be significantly higher.
“Moving forward, we anticipate that more cases will be found in each town due to increased awareness of the problem plus new reporting and referral requirements for healthcare providers,” said Deborah Horvath, NVHD Assistant Director of Community Health. “As of Jan. 1, 2009 primary care providers are now mandated … to perform an annual blood-lead screening on all children under age 3 or between 3 and 6 who have not been previously screened.”
Though children are most at-risk for lead poisoning, high levels of lead can poison adults as well; symptoms include high blood pressure, hypertension, digestive problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, and fertility problems.