$3.3M grant will help reduce lead risks in Southeastern Minnesota homes

A $3.3 million grant will help Minnesota reduce lead and other health hazards in homes. State officials will be working with local organizations in Houston, Winona, Fillmore and other counties to get rid of hazards in area homes.

Counties in southeastern Minnesota have seen higher rates of elevated blood lead levels in children, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Factors that have contributed to the higher-than-average rates include a high percentage of older homes with lead-based paint, high proportion of low-income families and shortage of new housing, according to a department press release. Families may not be able to afford to maintain or rehabilitate their homes, which could expose children to lead dust.

Over the next three-and-a-half years, they hope to help not only the families that have been impacted by lead but also those that are at risk.

Exposure to lead or lead poisoning symptoms can often be vague. It could include irritability in young children.

“Most commonly you’ll see nausea, [gastrointestinal] upset, diarrhea, abdominal pain,” said Dr. Chris Smith, who practices family medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System.

In more severe cases, Dr. Smith said you might start to notice a child isn’t reaching certain mental milestones.

“In my professional experience, I haven’t seen any drastic lead poisonings. Usually, we do catch them mostly in the screening phases at one or two years of life,” Smith said.

If there is a concern, families can bring their child in for a blood poke test. The Minnesota Department of Public Health gathers that information and works with local officials to help people address lead hazards.

“We do see quite a few cases of elevated blood lead levels in kids in Southeastern Minnesota,” said Stephanie Yendell, supervisor for the MDH’s Health Risk Intervention Unit.

With this grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials will prioritize funds to address homes where the department already knows kids have been exposed to the toxic metal.

“But then we’re also using funds to help families who have kids that haven’t yet been exposed to lead but have lead hazards in their homes that could become a problem,” Yendell said.

Officials will assess each property that gets enrolled in the grant to see if they need things like new siding or porches to get rid of the threat of lead. They’ll be able to make repairs to single-family homes or apartments.

“We’re more likely to find lead paint that’s breaking down on windows, so we’ll need to replace windows,” Yendell said.

While the department has done a lot of work to reduce rates of elevated blood lead levels, Yendell said they’re excited to bring additional resources to the part of the state.

“There’s still a lot more work that we need to do,” Yendell said.

As part of the grant, the departments want to train more contractors to increase the number of local contractors that can work with lead.

The funds will allow for work in 151 housing units over three-and-a-half years. That includes at least 31 housing units in the city of Rochester.

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