DETROIT — On Saturday a free event in Detroit kicked off the expansion of The Detroit LeadSafe Housing Program's free lead paint removal program.
The program offers the removal of lead-based paint hazards in homes where children younger than 6 years old live or frequently visit, or homes where a pregnant woman lives.
Before Saturday the program was offered only in zip code 48209, but at the weekend event families who live in zip codes 48210 and 48217 were also given the opportunity to sign up.
The room was packed.
Communications and volunteer coordinator at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI), Mariela Trejo said, "We actually received a lot more outreach than we anticipated, there’s a lot of people here, we have a full house."
The event was put on by The City of Detroit’s Housing & Revitalization Department, UNI, and Brilliant Detroit.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan explained the plan to the crowd of attendees; "We’re going to go into 240 homes that have children under the age of 6 and we’re going to completely remove the lead so those houses are safe forever."
Duggan said that zip codes 48210 and 48217 were chosen for the expansion based on information from local hospitals who report to them where most of their cases of young children with lead poisoning are coming from.
"When children came in with behavioral or learning issues, many times we found elevated lead levels in the blood," said Duggan.
According to the CDC, lead exposure occurs when a child comes in contact with lead by touching, swallowing, or breathing in lead or lead dust.
Exposure can lead to serious brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, as well as hearing and speech problems.
Lead-based paint was widely used in construction until its ban in 1978
In Detroit kids have higher lead poisoning rates than the rest of the state, primarily because of contact with lead through the city's old homes.
Duggan said, "Too often we find it. In almost every case when we go into the home, it’s peeling lead paint in the walls, and windows, and that’s what we gotta address."
According to the City of Detroit website the number of children with elevated blood levels in Detroit has decreased by about half since 2009.
The decline is likely due to the removal of blighted homes through demolition and life saving initiatives like Saturday's.
"They’re getting signed up today, we will be out this year, but we will complete 240 homes by the end of next year and we’ll just go house by house through the neighborhoods," said Duggan.