St. Lawrence County wants more people to take advantage of Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Grant program
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
The St. Lawrence County Planning Office is trying to get more people to participate in their Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Grant program.
County Planning Director Jason Pfotenhauer told the board they have $1 million for lead paint abatement, and to run an advertising and awareness campaign.He spoke to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators during their Operations Committee meeting on Monday, June 15. The board met online via Zoom and streamed the meeting live on YouTube.
Pfotenhauer said there are numerous challenges to getting people to participate.
He said they were awarded the $1 million in April 2019 but didn’t actually receive it until later that year.
“Without a formal release of funds, we’re hesitant to spend any money,” he said. “There’s a really steep learning curve that occurs with this because we haven’t done this type of program before.”
The federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) pays the grant money.
Pfotenhauer said in light of St. Lawrence County’s low participation, HUD asked the county for a corrective action plan. He said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hampered the program, but it has held up their corrective plan.
“COVID is absolutely not a reason why we’re behind … it is a reason we haven’t been able to make the corrective actions sooner,” he said.
He feels people may be picking up mixed signals from the government, with the stay-at-home orders that came as a result of the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’ve been telling people for three months stay in your homes, don’t let strangers in your homes. Now we’re telling people to let people in to do an assessment, to do some rehab work,” he said.
He also noted that the application is complicated.
“The application is a lengthy one. It has to be. There is just so much information that is required,” he said. “It’s hard to convince people this is in their best interest.”
He said the application includes income qualifications, and an in-home assessment. Contractors are then sent into the home to do the lead paint abatement work.
“Individuals may need to be relocated from their homes while the work is being done,” he said. “We also want to work with clients to help them fill out the application form … it’s not an easy thing to do. We want to do that on a one-on-one basis.”
He said part of their corrective action plan involves doing more to get word out to the community, perhaps possibly targeting pediatricians so they can discuss the program with patients.
Pfotenhauer said even though the threshold for lead content in the blood that is considered poisoned has been lowered, “St. Lawrence County has been chronically under-tested, compared to state averages.” He said when the threshold was lowered, he expected more children to be testing positive for lead poisoning, but that wasn’t the case.
“We really haven’t seen that bump,” he said. “Children are not tested for lead poisoning in their system as a result of their home life. If we could improve that testing, we would have a bigger pool, theoretically, and that would allow us to move forward with more individuals.”
Legislator Joe Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said he’s concerned that the county could lose the grant as a result of low participation.
“I would say obviously the funders want to see production. And right now they are concerned about the production in particular,” Pfotenhauer said. “We need to increase production or they will look to re-appropriate those funds.”
Pfotenhauer said there are only three contractors in the county qualified to do the abatement. Legislator Kevin Acres, R-Madrid, said they need to “triple that” to meet the need.
“We need more contractors. It’s just a math thing,” he said.
According to the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department's webpage, 73% of the county's housing was built in the 1970s or earlier, which means lead paint is a risk.
“It can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death. Young children, when exposed to high levels of lead in house dust, are particularly vulnerable. Since there is no medical treatment to permanently reverse the adverse health effects of lead exposure in children, it is critical to focus on prevention. If you live in pre 1978 housing, it is important to safeguard the children in your home or apartment from suffering the damaging effects of lead poisoning, by keeping the home clean and keeping painted surfaces intact," the department says on their web page.
More information is at https://www.stlawco.org/Departments/PublicHealth/LeadScreeningProgram
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