Grant pays for lead paint safety in Hennepin County

Official hopes to have lead-safe housing in all Minneapolis homes by 2010.

Kevin McCahill

Hennepin County has received a $3.8 million grant to protect homes and families from the dangers of lead paint.

The funding came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is part of $139 million in grants for more than 60 communities to help educate and reduce the use of lead paint.

According to Hennepin County officials, which announced the funding last week, 585 homes in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties will receive lead-hazard assistance.

Lead paints were banned for residential use in 1978, but most homes built earlier used lead paint and may still have some today. Some county officials estimate as much as 90 percent of homes in Minneapolis still have lead paint on their walls, said Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman.

Dorfman said the county established a lead task force to increase awareness of the issue. More than 300 homes have been cleaned already, and Dorfman said the grant will allow 300 more to be cleaned.

“People don’t know about (lead), so we are tying to get the word out,” she said.

Dorfman hopes to have lead-safe housing in all of Minneapolis by 2010.

She said some graduate-student family homes, especially in the older Como Southeast neighborhood, likely will see some of the money to help protect people from lead hazards.

Catherine Jordan is a professor in the University’s department of pediatrics, as well as the executive director of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium. She helped research the issue in Minneapolis over the past 10 years.

Jordan said the biggest effect of lead paint is seen in children who are still developing.

Children eat or inhale lead particles which can cause brain damage, she said. Pregnant women also are vulnerable.

Jordan pointed to gasoline, which used to include lead, as another culprit. Vehicle emissions get into the soil and can be inhaled, Jordan said.

The county’s initiative will help eliminate lead paint in homes as well as educate citizens about the hazards, she said.

Jordan encouraged regular hand-washing and house-cleaning to help prevent inhalation of lead. A diet rich in calcium, vitamin C and iron and low in fat will also help prevent lead from staying inside the body.

Jordan said that if a home has lead pipes, people should drink bottled water or run water until it is cold before drinking, so that fresh water will be flowing through the pipes.

Although most student-housing in the University area won’t be affected by the funding, Jordan said students should still understand the issue.

“It’s something they ought to know about,” she said. “Maybe someday they’ll have families and live in these areas and they will need to know about it.”

Jerry Erickson, general manger for the Como Student Community Cooperative, said the state has done environmental testing on the facility and didn’t find any lead paint.

According to HUD, lead paint in homes built before 1978 must be disclosed prior to sale or lease.

Although students aren’t as affected by lead as children are, some were concerned about its presence.

Speech pathology graduate student Nicole Schulz, who lives in Uptown, said she didn’t know whether she had lead in her house, but hoped she doesn’t.

“I’ve heard so much bad stuff about it,” she said. “I’d want to get rid of it.”

Political science sophomore Aaron Mach said his lease says the home has lead paint. Although he knows how dangerous it can be, he isn’t too concerned.

“We aren’t going to be eating the paint,” he said.