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Programs To Address Lead, Housing Issues

Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller of the Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department speaks to members of the City Council’s Housing Committee earlier this week as Crystal Surdyk, city development director, looks on. P-J photo by John Whittaker

Chautauqua County has several programs available to help homeowners — both rental and owner-occupied — address lead paint hazards and other housing issues.

Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller of the Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department discussed both the programs and the County Healthy Homes Program. Originally started as the Chautauqua County Lead Prevention Task Force, the Healthy Homes Program includes four main programs to help lessen lead paint in the county, all of which Schmidtfrerick-Miller discussed briefly with Housing Committee members earlier this week. Schmidtfrerick-Miller said the COVID-19 has made it more difficult to have children tested for lead poisoning, but prior-year testing has historically shown roughly 75% of lead poisoning cases in the county coming from Jamestown. The Jamestown Public Schools District is asking parents whose children are entering universal pre-kindergarten programs if they have been tested for lead poisoning, with the Chautauqua Center helping with testing for those who haven’t had it done yet.

“It’s completely preventable,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “So lead poisoning affects a child’s brain development, can result in loss of IQ points, learning difficulties that will persist throughout their schooling and can lead to issues with behavior issues that affect their ability to be successful during their working lives and can follow them throughout their lives. It’s truly tragic and in my opinion there’s no excuse for not being tested.”

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Plus program through the county Department of Health and Human Services is funded through the state Health Department to do preventative lead risk assessments in any home where a child under the age of 6 lives or visits more than six hours per week, at no charge. The program also allows the county to conduct the required lead risk assessments in any home where a child with an elevated blood lead level resides, so the county can identify the source of the lead exposure. If lead paint is found, the program provides basic resources to safely control the lead hazard and limit further exposure. Many of these families are referred to the HUD Lead Hazard Control Program.

“We inspect hoping to catch those situations before a child is lead poisoned,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “We do a fair number of those every year and we wish more people would reach out to us. We do canvas, write newborn letters, we go to community events trying to get more interest in that program. The unfortunate reality is that we have so many lead poison kids when we’re doing the inspections. What that means is we’re using those kids as lead detectors. It’s absolutely not right. It disproprortionately impacts children of low income and children of color.”

The county also offers HUD Lead Hazard Control through a partnership with Chautauqua Opportunities to make homes lead-safe by replacing or encapsulating interior and exterior sources of lead paint. The program is open to homeowners and rental property owners with a child under 6 residing in the home at six hours per week. There is no cost share to the property owner. More information on the program guidelines can be found at www.chautauquaopportunities.com/lead-program.

Another county partnership, the HUD Healthy Homes Production program, works with the Jamestown Department of Development’s housing programs. The Healthy Homes Production Grant Program addresses multiple diseases and injuries in the home by addressing a variety of high-priority housing-based health and safety hazards, such as mold and moisture, poor indoor air quality, pests, carbon monoxide, injury and safety hazards. Details are still being finalized, but this program’s income requirements will be households at or below 80% of area median income with a child or senior adult living in the home. There is no cost share to the property owner.

“That addresses a range of healthy housing issues,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “The way we wrote those programs it will not address lead to free up that money because we already have the Lead Hazard Control Fund to free up that money to address things like mold or asthma triggers, which includes pests. Mild and air quality issues are often caused by moisture getting into the home. So areas where moisture is getting into the home, this allows us to use these funds for that and actually remediating the mold or eliminating pests in the home. For seniors it would be trip and fall hazards that may exist in the home where there’s missing stairs or missing railings, that sort of thing. We’re working to prevent these kind of things from happening and to, in general, improve the housing situation.”

The county has also been awarded state Health Department funding to conduct radon testing and community outreach and education activities across Chautauqua County, with a goal of reducing radon exposure in area homes. Current EPA estimates are that, countywide, 35% of homes have basement radon levels that exceed safe levels.

“Certain areas of Jamestown you will find a very high concentration of areas with radon and other areas of the city lower concentrations,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “That’s another preventable risk for people. Radon is the second most preventable cause of lung cancer, particularly if someone is also a smoker. So in a home where somebody is smoking or there is secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke and radon it seems particularly prevalent.”

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