Mark Hague: Lead-cleanup focus turns to paint

Lead can have significant impacts on a child’s health and development and can be frightening to parents and others who strive every day to provide for the safety of the most vulnerable among us.

Children under 6 are most at risk because their developing nervous systems are especially vulnerable to lead’s effects.

EPA Region 7’s Superfund Program has been cleaning up residential properties in Omaha as a result of industrial smelting activities along the Missouri River. The vast majority of the work has been accomplished.

More than 529,000 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil at approximately 13,000 properties, including schools, day care centers, parks and playgrounds, has been addressed. In addition, lead-based paint has been stabilized at more than 6,200 homes.

That tells only part of the lead story in Omaha, though. Lead was also used for many years in paint before being banned for residential use in 1978.

In Omaha, numerous organizations are involved in efforts to address this critical children’s health issue, including EPA; Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Douglas County Health Department; and Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance.

EPA conducts lead inspections in Omaha, and our continued focus is on low-income neighborhoods with housing built before 1978. EPA’s rules require firms that conduct renovations, repair and painting projects be certified by EPA (or an EPA-authorized state program); use certified renovators who are trained by EPA or state-approved providers; and follow lead-safe work practices. Lead can become airborne and breathable when surfaces coated in lead-based paint are cut, sanded, demolished or undergo other construction activities.

To further help reduce children’s exposure to lead-based paint, EPA strives to be effective in its enforcement and outreach efforts. Federal laws do not give the agency legal authority to require landlords or contractors to assess or abate lead hazards, nor to perform the work ourselves.

When we find violations by responsible parties, we seek to negotiate agreements to have them perform lead-based paint removal projects.

In addition to inspections, we are working to increase awareness of lead hazards and the importance of lead-safe work practices through presentations to community groups, contractors and others. We have also engaged with day care providers, elementary schools and health care providers throughout Nebraska.

We encourage residents to hire certified firms to conduct renovations in order to protect families from exposure to lead. Consumers can protect themselves by looking for EPA’s “Lead Safe” logo on workers’ uniforms, signs and websites.

If you suspect that lead remediation rules have not been followed, you can contact us at 800-223-0425.

For information on blood-lead testing for children under the age of 6, please contact the Douglas County Health Department at 402-444-7825. A blood test is the only way to determine whether a child has a high lead level.

In addition, the Douglas County Health Department offers free lead-based paint inspections to families in Douglas County living in pre-1978 housing where children under the age of 7 spend time on a regular basis.


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