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Lead poisoning concerns in older Denver homes

Program helps families remove health hazards
Posted at 6:58 AM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 10:13:56-04

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DENVER — Four years ago, when Stephanie Senese noticed a bargain on a historic home in the Five Points neighborhood, she jumped on it.

"(The seller) said it hasn’t hit the market and I said we’ll take it," she said. "That was about as much thinking as a I did."

The home, which was built in 1890, was in disrepair. It needed major structural work, new plumbing and a new roof. And, of course, being an older home, it had lead-based paint. But Senese didn't worry until her son Vincent's blood test came back with elevated lead levels.

"We’re only educated about things like not eating paint chips, and my baby wasn't eating paint chips, he wasn't drinking the water," Senese said.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment said most homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint, and in many homes it's been removed or painted over. But it can still cause concerns because of lead dust.

"It's the constant opening and closing of doors and windows — that friction creates dust," said Mariea Singleton, who manages the city's Lead Hazard Control Program. "A lot of people don’t clean their window sills nor window troughs, so it just hangs out."

That dust blew in through the windows of the Senese family's home and spread through the air ducts. Young children are more likely to ingest lead dust because they frequently put their hands in their mouths. Vincent's lead levels were above 5 micrograms per decileter of blood, which is the "level of concern" in the United States.

Lead poisoning is especially concerning for children under the age of 6 because their brains are still developing. At high enough levels, lead can cause brain damage.
The Denver Urban Renewal Authority and Denver Department of Public Health and Environment are offering free lead assessments and removal services through a grant program. You may qualify if you live in a pre-1978 home, have children under the age of 6 in the home and meet the income guidelines.

For more information, visit the Denver Urban Renewal Authority website here or call 303-534-3872.

Luckily, the Senese family discovered the problem early and Vincent appears to be perfectly healthy today.

"I can open and close my windows without the fear anymore, and that's been so relieving," Senese said. "My baby’s not going to be harmed. I had him tested again and his lead levels in his blood are where they should be."