Health officials to target lead paint in older Toledo homes

U.S. grant boosts effort locally to shield children

The health department’s Vaughn Jackson holds a lead detection device. Lead-risk assessments are done  in homes when children are found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
The health department’s Vaughn Jackson holds a lead detection device. Lead-risk assessments are done in homes when children are found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

With Toledo children suffering from one of the highest rates of lead poisoning in the state, local health and housing officials are hoping a recent federal grant can make some city homes safer.

Lead exposure, even at low levels, can cause serious problems for young children and their developing brains and bodies.

“Lead poisoning can cause behavior issues, development issues, issues with hearing, trouble in school. ... It affects brain development. It can get into your soft tissues. It just wreaks havoc once it gets in there,” said Danielle Stratton, a registered nurse and case manager at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

The health department received a $2.4 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to tackle the lead paint in some of Toledo’s older homes that can harm children.

Even though lead-based paint was banned from residential use in 1978, HUD estimates that approximately 24 million homes still have significant lead-based-paint hazards.

The funds from the HUD grant plus assistance from the city of Toledo aim to remediate lead in homes where children have unacceptably high levels of lead in their blood, said Kathleen Kovacs, deputy director of Toledo's Department of Neighborhoods. The grant lets the city work with the health department to make upgrades so 165 homes will be safe for young residents.

Fixing the homes can include everything from replacing windows to stabilizing flaking paint to putting exterior siding on a structure, said Dan Sullivan, a rehab specialist and lead-risk assessor with the Department of Neighborhoods.

“We either try to enclose it [the source of the lead] or replace it,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We basically keep it from being accessible to kids anymore.”

Toledo has a significant childhood lead-poisoning problem, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

In 2011, 2.2 percent of those tested in the city under age 6 had a confirmed elevated blood lead level (at least 10 micrograms per deciliter). This is significantly higher than the state rate of 1.3 percent. Toledo has the second-highest lead poisoning rate of the major cities in Ohio after Cleveland, according to state statistics.

Morris Jenkins, chairman of the University of Toledo’s department of criminal justice and social work, is studying lead levels in Toledo adolescents to see how they correlate with aggressive and unruly behavior.

Homes built prior to 1978 — much of Toledo’s housing stock — often still contain lead paint. Wherever there is friction, such as around windows and doors, flaking paint can turn into dust that young children inhale or consume. About 92 percent of Toledo homes predate 1978, said Marilynne Wood, a professor at UT’s college of nursing who works with Mr. Jenkins studying youths with elevated lead levels.

“It does affect their ability to learn,” Ms. Wood said. “They tend to have more impulsive behavior ... this leads to problems in school.”

“We want people to understand the ramifications of lead poisoning and the seriousness of it,” Ms. Kovacs said.

For more information, call the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department at 419-213-4864.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.