A Publication of WTVP

The Peoria County Board has identified lead paint abatement as a top-priority agenda item for the second consecutive year in a concerted effort to reverse the harsh reality that the city of Peoria has the highest prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in the state of Illinois and one of the highest in the nation. This regrettable distinction, however, can be overcome with the combined efforts of local and federal governments, social service agencies, businesses and you, our citizens.

The city of Peoria boasts many beautiful homes, homes built in the early 1900s when lead paint was common. Once stately and attractive, these older homes unfortunately contribute to our high lead levels as they deteriorate and lead paint becomes a hazard to their occupants, particularly young children. As many as 10,000 deteriorated homes in Peoria could pose a lead threat to children.

Young children absorb lead primarily from paint in structures built prior to 1978, before lead was banned by the federal government. Lead dust from floors, toys and other surfaces can be easily ingested by babies as they become more active. Even low lead levels in the first three years of life can result in subtle but permanent loss of intelligence, in addition to causing attention and behavioral problems. In some Peoria neighborhoods, over 20 percent of children have elevated lead levels.

The Peoria City/County Health Department’s Lead-Safe Peoria Project addresses childhood lead poisoning with an array of solutions. A $3 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides funds to correct lead hazards in homes of low-income families, and the city of Peoria provides additional funds to supplement the HUD funds.

Peoria County, meanwhile, is developing a program that would provide forgivable loans on rental properties to help correct lead hazards in units available to families with young children. The County also trains contractors and construction workers to work safely with lead and helps prepare these workers for state licensure. Additionally, the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity (PCCEO) will provide needed repairs in conjunction with lead hazard correction.

Local government partners, however, cannot fight lead alone: lead hazards will not be corrected unless families take advantage of abatement opportunities. The Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service, Common Place and PCCEO Head Start are working with the Lead-Safe Peoria Project to reach families with children at risk of lead exposure. A coalition of health professionals, business people, educators and others has been striving to increase lead screening of young children, educate the community about lead hazards and find long-term solutions to the problem of childhood lead poisoning.

These combined resources are only the beginning, however. Lasting solutions require a combination of community awareness and commitment, as well as investment in the safety and rehabilitation of older neighborhoods by families, businesses and government. Parents and homeowners can contact the Health Department, Peoria County staff or PCCEO for information on assessing risks and identifying solutions for lead abatement. By working together to eliminate childhood lead poisoning, we ensure a safe and healthy community, a more capable workforce and a sustainable future for Peoria County and its citizens. IBI