The City of New Britain got some good news from Washington this week when it was awarded $3.4 million to help reduce lead hazards and make housing units safer for children.
The money will be used to address lead hazards in 184 housing units in New Britain, providing safer homes for low and very low-income families with children. The city will also use the funding to perform healthy homes assessments in 202 units.
Nearly 60,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported with lead exposure in 2013, and an additional 2,275 children had high enough levels of the toxin in their blood to be considered poisoned, according to a recent article published by the Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT).
While those numbers, the latest available from the state Department of Public Health, may seem high, health experts say they actually must be higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing, according to C-HIT.
C-HIT reports that even though Connecticut has some of the strictest lead-screening laws in the country — requiring every child to be tested once before age 2 and a second time before age 3 — DPH figures show that only half were screened twice, as mandated.
Lead poisoning in Connecticut is also about twice as common among children from low-income families, according to public health officials. With kids out of school and spending more time at home, there is a higher rate of lead poisoning among children during the summer.
As a state, Connecticut is sensitive to lead poisoning because nearly 75 percent of its housing was built before 1980, which means there is a higher likelihood that they contain lead in paint and old pipes. In Connecticut, a whopping 30 percent of housing was built before 1950 compared to 19 percent nationally, and nearly a quarter of Connecticut homes were built in 1939 or earlier.
U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart jointly announced the grant program earlier this week in New Britain.
“This crucial funding will go a long way in ensuring property owners have the ability to remove this toxic substance from their home so our community — especially our youth — can lead healthier lives,” Stewart said.
Murphy said the grant will give hundreds of New Britain families much-needed peace of mind and safe homes.
“Lead can cause serious and irreversible damage — especially to kids — and Connecticut still has thousands of old homes with lead paint and old pipes,” Murphy said.
Esty said families shouldn’t have to worry about their children being poisoned by pipes or paint in their own home.
“These grant funds will help New Britain protect potentially hundreds of children from the lifelong health impacts of lead exposure,” Esty said in a statement. “Congress should now do its part and pass the Healthy Homes Tax Credit Act to make it easier for homeowners in Connecticut and across the country to keep their families safe.”
Murphy and Esty authored the Healthy Homes Tax Credit Act, which would provide homeowners with a maximum tax credit of $5,000 to pay for lead, radon, or asbestos abatement. The legislation was introduced in February. The Senate bill has no co-sponsors and has not been raised by a committee, however, the House version was referred to committee in May and has one co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
The congressional bill tracking site GovTrack.US gives it a one percent chance of being enacted.