By: Dillon Wood, Cookingham-Noll Management Fellow, Office of the City Manager
The EPA’s home page shows a picture of a little girl looking at caution tape that appears to be covering up her bedroom. The caption on the picture reads, “Lead paint comes with a lifetime guarantee. It will do damage for generations.” One of the objectives in Kansas City, Missouri’s Citywide Business Plan that KCMO’s Health Department is working to accomplish is “Develop and implement strategies that increase the proportion of children living in lead-free homes.” At the last KCStat meeting on Housing, which was held on July 24th, some interesting discussions evolved from findings focused on this topic.
First, let’s take a step back—why should we be concerned about lead? Lead is an established neurotoxin that harms the brain, and; particularly children, whose brains are still developing. Research has linked exposure to lead with violent crime and mental illness. Also, you will see in the visual below that lower levels of lead in the bloodstream are associated with decreased intelligence and impaired neurobehavioral development. Severe lead poisoning can cause comas, convulsions, and even death.
Chart 1 – Effects of Lead Poisoning
A primary source of exposure to lead is lead paint in homes that were built before 1978—the year when Congressional regulations banning sales of paint containing lead went into effect. Below, you can see the Census data regarding the inventory of housing units in Kansas City by the year they were built. Units built before 1940 are especially at risk of lead paint, with units built between 1940 and 1978 at lesser risk.
Chart 2 – Housing Units in KCMO by Year Built
Based on this data, 82% of housing units in Kansas City are at risk for containing lead paint. Using this information, staffers wanted to examine where exactly those who are more susceptible to lead poisoning might be living. Zip code level data from families who have been tested for lead poisoning shows that lead poisoning in children is disproportionately located in the urban core. More than 53% of children who have blood lead levels at 5 or over µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter—unit of measurement for blood levels) are from zip codes 64109, 64123, 64124, 64127, and 64128.
Chart 3 – Lead Poisoning in Children by Zip Code
The age of housing stock and the incidence of poverty/substandard housing are most likely the reasons for these findings. This is normally an indicator of risk for lead poisoning.
So, how is KCMO using this data to help find solutions to this problem?
We know that 157,166 homes in Kansas City were built prior to 1978 and, as a result, are at risk for containing lead based paint. Project Lead Safe Kansas City is a grant funded program that is available to assist Kansas City residents with home and rental property lead-based paint stabilization. The program sends a licensed lead inspector to your home to determine what the lead hazards are and to make work recommendations, which are then carried out by licensed lead abatement contractors. Lead Safe KC does have some income restrictions—your household income must be less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. Also, you must have a child under six years of age who lives in your home, or visits your home more than 10 hours every week. For more information, you can call 816-513-6048.
Since 1997, 2,552 homes have been remediated through Lead Safe KC using $19,440,778 in HUD funding. Furthermore, the Health Department recently received a renewed three-year grant from HUD in the amount of $2,900,000. Over 100 agencies applied for this HUD grant, and Kansas City’s Health Department received the highest score of all applications submitted.
Finally, communication efforts have ramped up to make the public aware about lead poisoning. The Health Department has created four infographics for LeadSafe KC, launched a video campaign, and has created an insert to be featured in your water bill. Mayor Sly James challenged staff to continue best practices efforts, while seeking innovative ways to help our residents. If you would like more information about lead poisoning testing or prevention, please contact the Kansas City Health Department.