Lead is a toxic metal that can build up in the body over months or years of exposure. According to the CDC, no amount of lead is safe and even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children younger than 6 years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect their mental and physical development.
The most common sources of lead poisoning for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, contaminated soil, and lead dust in older homes and buildings.
Houses or apartments built before 1978, when lead paint was banned, are likely to contain lead paint on walls and other surfaces. As this paint chips or flakes, it can be ingested or breathed in by small children, causing lead poisoning.
Lead in South Bend
Nearly 80% of South Bend homes were built prior to 1980 and are therefore likely to contain lead paint. In South Bend, the largest source of lead poisoning in children is lead paint in older homes, however City water is not a source of lead exposure and is regularly tested for cleanliness and safety.
In Saint Joseph County, less than 10% of children under 7 have been tested for lead poisoning in the last ten years (2005-2015). This is far below the CDC recommendation for universal testing. Of those tested in the last ten years, nearly 10% had elevated blood lead levels. Seven census tracts have rates of elevated blood lead levels greater than 20%, with one census tract as high as 36%–the highest in the state.
Higher rates of elevated blood lead levels are typically found in areas with older homes and a high number of homes in poverty, typically near the city center. You can check your neighborhood’s risk using the Indiana State Department of Health Website.
3 Steps to Living Lead Safe
1. Get Your Child Tested
Children under 6 years old should be tested regularly for lead exposure. Regardless of risk, the CDC recommends testing children at 12 and 24 months.
Free Regular Testing for Children 6 and under
Children 6 and under who live in St. Joseph county can receive free lead testing from the South Bend Medical Foundation. Contact the St. Joseph County Health Department at (574) 245-6755 for more information.
Special Testing Events
Thursday, 3/21: Testing available for children 1-6 years old at Harrison Elementary (3302 W Western Ave) 3:30-6:30pm. Call (574) 235-9750 for more information.
Clean up lead dust
When old paint cracks and peels, it makes lead dust. Lead dust is so small you cannot see it. Children get lead poisoning from swallowing dust on their hands and toys.
- Use wet paper towels to clean up lead dust regularly.
- Clean around windows, play areas, and floors regularly.
- Wash hands and toys often with soap and water. Always wash hands before eating and sleeping.
- Use contact paper or duct tape to cover chipping or peeling paint.
Cover bare soil
Lead can also be found in the soil as a result of chipping and peeling lead paint on the exterior of homes and leaded gasoline. Children get lead poisoning from swallowing dirt on their hands and toys or breathing in lead from dust.
- Plant grass or spread mulch on bare soil. Encourage children to play on covered surfaces.
- Use raised beds for gardening. Cover sand boxes and other soil play areas.
- Use doormats to wipe dirt off shoes. Remove shoes before entering the house.
- Mop floors to pick up dust, using a two-bucket system with clean rinse water. Or use products like Swiffer to pick up dust and dirt from outside.
Lead Safe DIY Repair
Before performing home repairs that disturb paint, test paint for lead. If your house was built before 1978, assume paint contains lead. Consider hiring a lead-certified contractor for large repairs. See EPA guidelines for DIY repair for more information.
- Protect yourself: wear a certified disposable respirator with HEPA filter and protective clothing that is laundered separately from household items.
- Work safely: Seal off project area using heavy-duty plastic sheeting and tape. Close surrounding windows and doors to prevent spread of lead dust.
- Minimize dust: use wet sanding equipment, misters, HEPA filter attachments on power sanders and grinders, and a HEPA filter vacuum to clean work area, tools and clothing.
3. Get Your Home Inspected for Lead Risks and Apply for Home Repair Funding
You can live safely with lead in your home. A risk assessment will provide you with information about any lead risks that may be present, as well as recommendations for how to address them.
The St. Joseph County Health Department conducts free lead risk assessments in homes with children under the age of 7, homes where pregnant women reside, or homes where a lead-poisoned child has already been identified.
To schedule a lead risk assessment or to get more information about lead poisoning, contact the Health Department at (574) 235-9582.
You can also contact a commercial home inspection service. The Indiana State Department of Health maintains a list of licensed contractors.
Lead-Safe Home Repair
Funding is available through the City of South Bend and State of Indiana for grants to income-qualified homeowners for lead abatement or interim controls that make your housing safer. Property owners and landlords that rent to income-qualified tenants may qualify for grants or forgivable loans.
Who is eligible? Renters and homeowners who earn less than 80% of median income ($54,000 for a family of 4). Visit the State lead website or call 311 for more information.
Lead Affinity Group