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Lead-Safe program helps families stay safe

Posted Aug. 27, 2019

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windows seen from the outside of a house

Fort Worth resident Marcus Hatcher already knew a little about the danger of lead-based paint in the home, but when he saw a poster about the city’s Lead-Safe program, he decided to act.

“Because of the age of my home, I knew lead could be an issue,” said Hatcher, who lives in a 1925-era Northside home. In the U.S., homes built before 1978 often have lead-based paint, which can pose serious health hazards.

Lead is especially dangerous to children under the age of 6. Hatcher and his wife Martina have a 15-month-old and a baby on the way. “I wanted to eliminate the lead risk,” Hatcher said.

Applying for help

After reading more about the Lead-Safe program on the city’s website, Hatcher contacted the Neighborhood Services Department, which helps eligible residents apply for free home inspections and services that address lead-based paint hazards in the home.

“They emailed the application to me,” he said. “I filled it out and emailed it back. It wasn’t difficult to get the process started,” Hatcher said.

Once the Hatchers’ application was approved, the city hired an independent risk inspector. “They tested our whole house for areas where there’s lead paint exposure,” Hatcher said.

Learning your home’s risk

The risk inspector tests walls, floors, window sills — all painted surfaces throughout the home — using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence “gun” that identifies lead.

“It’s a thorough and careful process,” said Carlos Salguero, a Neighborhood Services technician.

The inspector prepares a written report of the test results, and a city technician shares it with the homeowner during a walkthrough of the house, showing where lead was found in the home.

The Hatchers were surprised to learn a bedroom they were readying for their soon-to-arrive baby had elevated levels of lead. “The nursery had the highest risk where I had done some DIY work that stirred up lead dust,” Hatcher said.

Dust from sanding, scraping or disturbing lead-based paint during renovations is a major source of lead poisoning in young children. Disturbed dust can be inhaled or ingested when children put fingers or toys in their mouths.

Reducing home hazards

Services provided through the Lead-Safe program — up to $20,000 per home — aim to reduce lead risk through specialized cleaning and paint methods.

“The program addresses lead hazards. If the paint is intact and undisturbed, it’s not a hazard,” explained city technician Mike Chesshir. For example, at the Hatcher home, flaking paint on nine out of 12 windows tested positive for lead, so the Lead-Safe program replaced nine windows.

The program also paid to wet-scrape, prime and paint the home’s exterior and do specialized cleaning elsewhere to further protect the Hatcher family from lead hazards.

Other safety issues

Since Neighborhood Services coordinates various grant-based programs for the city, technicians keep an eye out for other hazards in the home.

“Our technicians are looking for any health and safety issues that affect infants to the elderly,” said Maria Corrales, housing program supervisor.

During the Hatcher home walkthrough, technician Salguero noted several safety concerns, including a small gas leak on the home’s water heater, inadequate insulation and lack of a stove hood vent to remove moisture.

In the Hatchers’ case, funding covered all of the needed lead hazard reduction work and most of the other concerns, including a new vent hood and blown-in attic insulation.

“It made a significant improvement in the comfort level in our house and also lowered our heating and cooling bills,” Hatcher said. “It doesn’t hurt to apply.”

What applicants can expect

To protect families from hazardous dust generated from construction, residents are expected to move out of the home while work is being performed — typically, for two to three days.

Once the contractor finishes, a city technician inspects their work, testing window sills, floors and soil wherever paint was disturbed. If a test fails, the contractor must re-clean before the family can move back in.

“It’s well worth it,” Hatcher said. “We appreciate the help. Our house is safer, and it also increased the value of my home.”

Residents can learn more about the Lead Safe program at two community workshops to be held at Northside Community Center, 1100 N.W. 18th St:

  • Sept. 19, 6:30- 8 p.m. (Meeting will be conducted in Spanish.)
  • Sept. 21, 9:30-11 a.m.

Learn more about the Lead-Safe program.

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