Michiana communities are high risk for lead poisoning - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Michiana communities are high risk for lead poisoning

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It's an issue we don't hear about much anymore, but many children in Michiana are at high risk for lead poisoning.

The number of children with lead poison is shrinking in Berrien County, but Health Department Medical Director, Dr. Rick Johansen says the large number of older homes and rental properties make them one of the highest at-risk communities in Michigan. "It's a silent scorch, the parents and kids don't know it's there."

For years the health department tried reducing lead, but Johansen says it was a federal grant that made the difference. "I've been here since 1977. So we've been working on at this for a long time. This was a spectacular blessing to be able to get the grant to do this many houses."

The three year grant gave them two million dollars to spend on remediating homes with lead. The program just ended and Environmental Health Manager, Ken Priest says it was a success. "We actually went beyond the number of homes we were asked to do."

Priest says they first inspected at risk homes, then determined the best method for removing lead. "There were a lot of windows and doors replaced. Some houses had their siding replaced."

They tackled 124 homes. Most of the homes were in Benton Harbor and ALL cases involved young children. Dr. Johansen says, "They are the ones playing on the floor, there hands in mouth."

He says extreme cases of lead poisoning can lead to seizures and dealt, but lower amounts of exposure effect a child's IQ. "If in general it's going to drop your IQ level 8-10 points, that's a significant burden on a population."

But now with 124 more lead-safe homes, Dr. Johansen says he is excited to see fewer children with issues. "It's great news for the county and really Benton Harbor."

The Berrien County Health Department is in the process of reapplying for that same Federal Grant. They say even though they made great progress over the last 3 years, there's more work to be done.

And in Indiana, St. Joseph County is also a high risk area for lead poisoning. They were awarded the same grant and are already a year into remediating homes.

"The biggest thing is, get your home tested, get your child tested, get the facts on lead poisoning. We live in a high risk area. There's certainly plenty of resources out there that homes can be fixed. So we want people to take advantage of the grant," says environmental health specialist for St. Joseph, Melissa Papp.

She says they have over 2 million dollars to work with over the next couple of years.

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