Within its borders, Hennepin County estimates that 800-1,200 children ages 6 and under live with elevated levels of toxic lead in their blood. Aiming to help ease the health hazard, the county announced on Monday that it has secured $7 million in federal grants to repair homes where the lead-based paint is present.
It's no small job. Lead-based paint is thought to be present in tens of thousands of homes dating to the 1940s, mostly in Minneapolis, but also in St. Paul and Ramsey County. The federal funds will pay to make an estimated 365 homes lead-safe, and another 675 homes will have safety repairs made to them.
"It's not just an inner-city problem," said Melisa Illies, spokeswoman for the county project. "The inner-ring suburbs especially will also have these problems."
Elevated lead levels can pose serious health issues for anyone, but small children are especially at risk. It gets into their systems when they inadvertently ingest paint chips, or play with toys in which lead paint is used. At elevated levels, it can cause serious physical and mental damage and even death, particularly in young children.
The county plans to use the grants for abatement testing and evaluation and targeted buildings, and then work with owners and contractors to make the homes lead-safe.
North Minneapolis resident Linn Kelly said her 1940s-era rambler tested positive for lead, after her two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with elevated lead level in her blood. Kelly said she learned about the county lead abatement program at a neighborhood gathering.
"They did a couple windows and found lots of lead in those two windows and so they had to come out and test all the windows and the floors and the ceilings and everything," she said.
Since Hennepin County's lead prevention program began in 2003, the county has received more than $24 million in lead abatement grants from the federal government, matched with more than $15 million from local, state and private resources.
The county says it has created 1,900 lead-safe housing units, helped make about 1,500 homes lead-safe.