Rock County, Janesville get lead hazard grant

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

— Rock County and Janesville are on a roll in bringing federal and state grant money to the county to remove lead paint in low-income, privately owned housing.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced the county would receive another $2.5 million over the next three years.

The county is the lead agency in a consortium that includes the cities of Janesville and Beloit.

Janesville's portion of about $780,000 is enough to remove lead in 40 housing units, said Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood services director. About half will go to the owners of homes with children under 6 years old and half to landlords who rent to low- to moderate-income renters.

The county also will perform healthy homes assessments in 60 units, focusing on issues such as radon and well water. The assessments are paid for with an additional $200,000 in Healthy Homes Initiative funding.

The county will use grant money to educate contractors on safe lead-removal practices and increase public awareness about lead poisoning.

HUD awarded $98.3 million to 38 projects nationwide to remove lead-based paint and other home safety hazards.

Lead paint was banned in residential paint in 1978, but HUD estimates about 24 million homes still have significant lead-based paint hazards, according to a release.

Lead has been found to impair children's development.

Petruzzello expects the average forgivable grant in Janesville to be $16,000 per home.

"When we go into a project, all of the lead hazards have to be addressed," Petruzzello said, including exterior paints and interior varnishes. Work can include window replacement.

Housing built after 1978 typically is considered to be lead-safe. About 15,000 housing units were built in Janesville before that.

This is the third time Janesville has received this particular grant and the fourth grant it received in recent years for a total of nearly $1.28 million that addressed lead hazards in 122 housing units, Petruzzello said.

The grants included:

-- 2006-2009: $410,000 for 30 housing units

-- 2009-2011: $245,816 for 17 units

-- 2010-2013: $624,000 for 75 units

Owner-occupied properties qualify for the grant if owners have a qualifying income level—$49,750 for a family of four, for example—or have children under the age of 6. Priority is given to families whose children are in immediate danger, Petruzzello said.

The program is also available for landlords who rent to low- and moderate-income households.

Low-income children are three times as likely to be exposed to lead, Petruzzello said.

Janesville and the county work together to find recipients, Petruzzello said.

The health department, for example, might get referrals from pediatricians, and the city code inspector might see evidence of exterior lead paint on his rounds. The health department also cross-checks client data with homes built before 1950.

About 1,200 Wisconsin children have unacceptable levels of lead in their bodies, but that number likely will rise because national health officials recently lowered the acceptable lead level, Petruzzello said.

The local lead removal program should be ready for referrals in mid-summer, Petruzzello said.

Last updated: 7:53 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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