Armed with more than $300,000 in state and federal funding, the Niagara County Health Department is preparing a plan to try to reduce the number of homes in the county with toxic lead-based paint.
Environmental Health Director James J. Devald told the Board of Health last week that new federal regulations lower the threshold for the amount of lead in the bloodstream that requires medical treatment.
And as of April 22, contractors who carry out repairs, renovations or paint jobs in homes with lead paint must follow federal guidelines, if a child lives in the home or if the work disturbs more than 6 square feet of interior paint or 20 square feet of exterior paint.
The federal government banned lead paint in 1978, but an estimated 24 million homes still have it, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Lead exposure can lower a child's IQs, stunt their growth and produce developmental delays.
Deputy Public Health Director Victoria Pearson said the county has received a $100,000 grant from HUD for a lead program, and Devald said the state Health Department has provided $212,000.
The county Health Department intends to work with Environmental Education Associates, a company Devald said can train the department's staff in carrying out lead assessments that meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.
County public health sanitarians will be able to do lead assessments and order property owners to correct the problem within 30 days.
Pearson said the county will use some of the grant money to work out an incentive program with merchants to offer discounts on paint and other supplies.
The county intends to work with the Niagara Falls Community Health Worker Program, Center City Development Corp. and other organizations to spread the word about lead.
Lisa Chester, head of the county's early childhood programs, said blood tests are now required for all 1- and 2-year-olds to check for lead.
Pearson said eating paint chips isn't the only source of lead exposure. The paint gets into the soil.
"If you're digging to plant flowers in the soil, you could be poisoning your child, because there's lead in [the dirt]," she said.