New Castle County has received a multi-million dollar grant to help protect its residents from lead poisoning.
New Castle County will abate toxic lead paint from 130 homes in Wilmington, Claymont and New Castle under a $3 million grant it received in September from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Low- to moderate-income residents living in housing built prior to 1978, where a child under the age of six or a pregnant woman visits or lives, are eligible to apply.
“This is a free program to both tenants and owners. It’s not just for those who own their homes,” said Franchon Dickinson, the incoming administrator for New Castle County’s lead abatement program under the grant. “We also have staff who actually walk you through the entire process, which all grants don’t have.”
Eligible housing will then be tested for lead, and contractors will later stabilize or remove lead-based paint that is found. The county has also received $300,000 from HUD to fix health and safety hazards, such as leaking roofs or missing railings, in some of the homes.
New Castle County officials say the majority of houses in zip codes 19703, 19720, 19801, 19802, 19805, and 19806, where the grant can be applied, were built before 1978, when the federal government banned consumer uses of lead paint.
Dickinson says the program is first-come, first-served, but households with children that have already been identified as having elevated levels of lead in their bodies will be prioritized.
Exposure to lead can damage children’s brains and nervous systems, slow development and cause learning and behavior problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) data available through the My Health Community web portal shows roughly 1 in 5 children in New Castle County were tested for lead levels as of 2016. That year 180 children in the county tested with lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dl), a rate of 120 in 10,000 children. That number had dropped by 55 percent since 2010.
The 5 μg/dl reference level set by the CDC is based on the 97.5th percentile of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)’s blood lead distribution in children. The CDC recommends routine assessment of nutritional and developmental milestones for children with blood lead levels above this concentration.
DPH data shows rates of child lead poisoning are higher in and around the City of Wilmington than elsewhere in New Castle County.
Dickinson says this is the case in many urban areas. “Typically those in urban areas, low- to moderate-income, they don’t have the option to move into newly renovated apartment or homes,” she said. “So they are affected probably at a disproportionate rate.”
Dickinson says she plans to get homes “in the pipeline” for the program in January.
The grant is part of $314 million awarded to state and local government agencies nationwide through HUD's Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction program. New Castle County will work with the City of Wilmington, the State of Delaware and other community partners to promote the program.