MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – The City of Memphis recentlyreceived a $5 million grant to remove lead from around 300 homes. That soundslike a lot until you consider there are almost 200,000 homes built in ShelbyCounty before 1978, which is the year lead in paint was banned.
Environmental experts say being exposed to lead in paint can betoxic, especially to children.
“Lead poisoning in Memphis is about twice the nationalaverage,” says toxicologist Evan Comeaux.
Comeaux is with the Memphis and Shelby County Lead Safe Collaborative, a non-profit group dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of lead poisoning. Comeaux says when lead levels are elevated in a person’s blood, the toxic metal can cause everything from a lowered IQ to physical problems, such as going blind.
“Lead poisoning is related to a lot of the problems Memphisfaces, including public health and education – childhood performance in schoolsand failing schools – and job rate job success,” says Comeaux.
In 2018, 13,000 children under the age of six were tested inShelby County for lead in their blood. 228 children had elevated levelsand 54 were considered significantly high.
The good news? There are fewer children found with lead in theirsystem today than a decade ago. In 2018, fewer than 2% had elevated levels oflead, compared to more than 8% in 2009. Experts attribute the decline totesting and public education.
For example: one easy way to spot there could be a problem?
“If you see paint chipping and degrading, that’s a red flag,”says Comeaux.
Shelby County and the City of Memphis have programs to help removelead from homes. To qualify for the programs, you have to be considered lowincome and have children under the age of six.
There is a shortage of city-approved contractors who are certifiedto remove lead. It’s estimated there are fewer than 10 certified lead paintremoval contractors who do residential work in Shelby County.
“Around the country it’s a challenge. There is a shortage ofpeople that have these certifications,” says Mairi Albertson with the Cityof Memphis.
The city’s new lead removal grant also covers the expense oftraining additional contractors.
“We expect to help to increase contractor capacity byallowing people – who are low income residents of the city of Memphis – we willpay for the training and so if some of our contractors can hire, that increasesour capacity to produce,” says Albertson.
“We do need more people to be trained and that’s a sadreality we face – is that a lot of people doing this repair work aren’tproperly trained, and the lead paint is not removed properly and people can getexposed,” says Comeaux.
Comeaux says improper removal could make the situation worse, whichcould put you and your family’s health at risk.
“The lead paint should be removed professionally and properly,because if you remove it improperly, you can just spread it all over yourhouse,” says Comeaux.
To see if you qualify for the city program, call 901-636-LEAD. Youcan also go to a hardware store or get a lead testing kit online if you want tocheck the status of your home.