Hartford has gone from 1st in lead poisoning in CT to 4th with help of an annual federal grant

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Douglas Hook/Hartford Courant/TNS

Hartford has gone from the worst city in the state for the number of lead poisoning cases to the fourth worst, and that progress has been fueled in part by the help of federal grants over the last 20 years, Liany Arroyo, Hartford director of health and human services told a Hartford City Council committee Monday night.

After a few questions for Arroyo about the city’s lead abatement program, the city council’s health and human services committee voted favorably to accept a $4.4 million grant to continue the work. The grant, which the city has received most years for two decades, was announced in October by Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.

Like many municipalities in Connecticut, Hartford has a high number of buildings built before 1978, the year when lead-based paint was banned. Exposure to lead can cause significant physical and mental problems, particularly among young children. The lead dust that can be released by actions such as opening windows poses a threat of ingestion to children playing on the floor, for instance, Arroyo said.

It’s costly to remove lead, Arroyo said, so the remediation is done by encapsulating the toxic substance.

Arroyo said more than 1,400 units in the city have been made lead safe so far and they hope to do 160 to 170 more homes with the help of the grant.

The grant, distributed in the form of forgivable loans, has income limits and requires that a child 6 years old or younger live in the unit or spend a lot of time there.

She said there are so many properties to be done, it is not an issue that will ever disappear.

In 2020, Hartford ranked fourth in the state with 71 children under 6 with lead levels greater than five micrograms per deciliter of blood, a total that has declined 58% since 2016, when it was 170, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s surveillance reports. New Haven is No. 1 with 171, down from 405 in 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently lowered the minimum level of lead in the blood which will trigger healthcare workers and housing specialists to take action from five micrograms to 3.5 micrograms.

“No amount of lead is safe in children,” Arroyo said.

Connecticut has passed a law that will put that level into effect as of Jan. 1, 2023, so the number of children and dwellings subject to lead treatment and abatement will rise significantly. Bronin has said the remediation program is one piece of a broader effort to protect children from the effects of lead. The effort includes education.

Homeowners and tenants who believe there is lead-based paint in their homes are encouraged to reach out to HHS at 860-757-4700.