The city of Waco won a $1.5 million federal grant Wednesday that will help residents pay to fix lead-paint hazards in their homes.
City leaders were ecstatic when they learned of Waco’s cut of $139 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants announced Wednesday to help vulnerable residents nationwide address toxic lead hazards. Children are particularly vulnerable to brain damage and other health issues caused by ingestion of lead.
Waco’s lead problems are particularly pronounced and are associated with lead-based paint on houses built before the material was banned. The Tribune-Herald reported last year that 17 percent of children in the 76707 ZIP code who were tested had lead levels of more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Areawide, 5.7 percent of children tested exceeded the 5 microgram per deciliter threshold, compared to 2.6 percent statewide.
During the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, 10.6 percent of children tested exceeded that threshold, which is the level that should trigger interventions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under the ordinance, crafted by the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, officials will work to identify sources of lead contamination if a test identifies a child who has blood-lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter or more.
Property owners who fail to provide interim controls or abatement plans within 90 days could face Class C misdemeanor charges. City officials have said they believe the ordinance is the first of its kind in Texas.
The grant is expected to be enough to pay for 140 low-income Waco families to fix lead problems in their homes. Lead paint is typically addressed by encapsulating it in another specialized paint or by removing it while taking steps to collect dust and protect workers from exposure.
The city did not start enforcing the new ordinance as it waited for results of its grant application, Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson said.
“This has been such a long process, and I’m so happy,” health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine said. “There were several of us working on it, from housing, from health, and we got a lot of support from city managers. Now, to actually have it, I’m excited, and I can’t wait to really find out and get started and know how it’s going to work.”
Waco District 3 Councilman John Kinnaird, who is also chairman of the health district, said collaboration between various groups was necessary to get to this point and win the grant.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Kinnaird said. “I’m very excited and very appreciative to all the work the staff put in because it’s a very competitive grant. The fact that we were awarded such a substantial amount, I think it’s going to be a fantastic thing in this community, and it’s going to go a long way.
“It’s still a first step, but it’ll go a long way toward helping remediate and alleviate the problem that this lead and paint and other environmental contamination points has on the community.”
Also Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s administration released a plan involving several federal agencies meant to combat lead exposure in children. Environmental advocates said the attention on the issue is appreciated but that the plan lacks new targets for regulatory or enforcement action, the AP reported.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced the $139 million grant package Waco got a piece of during an event Wednesday with other federal officials introducing the administration’s lead plan.
The CDC has found that children in at least 4 million households nationwide are exposed to lead from a variety of sources, according to the AP report.
In Waco, flaking lead paint is the main culprit for exposure. Paint makers lowered the concentration of lead in their products in the 1960s, and lead in paint was banned nationwide in 1978. More than two-thirds of homes in the 76707 ZIP code were built before 1960.
“Today, we take another important step toward creating safer and healthier homes for families and their children,” Carson wrote in a press release. “At HUD, one of our most important missions is to provide people with safe and reliable housing, and these grants will help states and local communities eliminate lead-based paint and other health hazards from low-income homes.”