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City, county team up to fight lead poisoning, other home health risks

ST. LOUIS – Black youths in St. Louis are 2.4 times more likely than their white counterparts to have an elevated blood lead level and also account for 70 percent of those suffering from lead poisoning.

That’s according to the Environmental Racism Report, prepared for the Sierra Club, Arch City Defenders, Dutchtown South Community Corp. and Action St. Louis and released recently by Washington University.

At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system. The damage can cause coma, convulsions and death, according to the World Health Organization.

Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioral disorders, the organizations also says.

Lead-based paint and dust are the most common sources of exposure. Many of the homes built in St. Louis before 1978 were painted with paint containing lead.

Children and adults can ingest lead through swallowing contaminated dust that settles on food, food prep surfaces, floors, window sills and in soil, or by breathing in the lead dust.

Although adults can suffer ill effects, children are more likely to face lifelong learning, behavioral and health effects.

“This is has been known for years,” north St. Louis resident Anthony Nelson noted. “I hope they’re really finally doing something about it.”

In an effort to reduce lead exposure, St. Louis’ Department of Health has teamed with St. Louis County Department of Public Health to create a Healthy Homes Coalition.

As a team, according to a joint press release, they will take a regional approach to improve area residents’ health inside their own homes. The coalition will incorporate eight tips for a keeping a healthy home, as outlined by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

They are: 1. Keep it dry 2. Keep it clean 3. Keep it safe 4. Keep it well-ventilated 5. Keep it pest-free 6. Keep it contaminant-free 7. Keep it well-maintained 8. Keep it thermally controlled.

Dr. Fredrick L. Echols, director of health for St. Louis, said accomplishing the eight items was critical to protecting the health of St. Louis residents.

“That ain’t gon’ do nothing for these cribs in the city; people need to get the lead out,” Nelson said.

According to Echols, the Healthy Homes Coalition will work with stakeholders who provide in-home services to identify residents in need of help to make or keep their homes healthy.

“Once homes are identified, the residents can be connected with resources and assistance organizations,” the city health director said.

County health co-director Spring Schmidt said the city-county coalition would bring together those who are working on the issue of lead poisoning to expand and collaborate across the region.

“Providing services to protect children in their homes and prevent illness is one of the primary goals of public health,” Schmidt said.

In the city, strategic partnerships to increase the rate of lead screenings for the city’s children is also being explored. As such, screenings are available for children ages 6 months to 6 years at the City of St. Louis Department of Health.

Appointments are preferred and can be made by calling 314-657-1515; however, walk-ins are also accepted. Screenings are provided Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for the lunch hour (approximately 12 noon until 1 p.m.).

Additional information on the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website,

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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