SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - A $3.1 million federal grant is helping about 200 families protect themselves from lead poisoning.
According to experts, the most common causes of lead poisoning are old paint, plumbing pipes, and dust. Public health officials estimate those culprits are currently exposing thousands of Utahns to the harmful toxin, who in many cases, do not realize it.
Experts say people who are most at risk are those living in homes built before the year 1978.
Ashley Pacheco and her family are some of those people.
"The paint chips were always there. I never thought about it," Pacheco said, adding that her outlook changed when her young children started playing on the deteriorating front porch of her Salt Lake City home.
The young mom says she turned to the health department for assistance testing the house for lead.
"It turns out that the entire exterior was positive. It was quite scary," Pacheco said.
That is when Pacheco heard about Salt Lake County's Lead Safe Housing Program.
Thanks to the federal grant, she was able to renovate her porch and prevent serious neurological problems in their children, as a result.
As in Pacheco's case, officials say chipping paint is a problem at many old houses and apartments. Nowadays, it is illegal for use in homes, but up until the government cracked down in 1978, housing materials were full of lead.
"It's possible to get [lead poisoning] through the water, through the solder and pipes, it's possible to get it through ceramics, glassware... You can get it through the environment, through dust, through the air that you breath," explained Dr. Claudia Fruin, Medical Director of the Utah Dept. of Health.
Fruin says that is why chipping paint is so detrimental. Children who breathe contaminated dust can suffer developmental delays, attention deficit problems, lower IQs, and even death.
The worst part is the damage happens subtly over time.
"There's no obvious symptoms," Fruin explained.
The pediatrician says any amount of lead is harmful, and yet many children across Utah would test positive at levels higher than the CDC's recommended level for intervention (of 5.0).
"We have a lot of kids that would test above five," she said.
Fruin estimates the number of impacted children is close to 5,000. She and other experts are now working on several projects to gather data and increase awareness, but she says the most important prevention tool is the public. She says when in doubt, it does not hurt to ask for a screening or test your home.
Click here for more information on Salt Lake County's Lead Safe Housing Program and to see if you qualify.
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