Health department offers free home inspection for families with high lead levels

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PITTSBURGH —

The Barbour family in Bloomfield thought they had done everything right when renovating their 100-year-old home.

They took extra care to make sure the layers of lead paint weren't exposed and that any paint dust was wiped away.

But when Liza Barbour took her twins to their pediatrician for a check up, the blood test showed they both had elevated lead levels.

"As soon as you get news like that, that you're kids aren't as safe in your house as you thought they were, you immediately want to do something," the mother of three said.

"It is serious. It can really cause general nerve dysfunction. It's just something that you don't want to have happen," said Dr. Ron Voorhees, the acting director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

According to the CDC, lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.

That's why the Allegheny County Health Department offers a free home inspection to families whose children have elevated lead levels through a program funded by the CDC.

"You know exactly what the problem is and you have professionals suggesting to you what you can do to safely fix it," Liza Barbour said.

A team tested the water and soil at the Barbour's home.

They also used an X-ray machine to look through all the layers of paint.

Investigators determined that tiny paint chips from the doorways had exposed lead paint from several coats down.

"That little bit of lead from the layers underneath that was showing through got onto their hands and then into their mouths and that was what was probably causing the elevated levels," she said.

Investigators gave the family suggestions, like putting furniture in front of the window sills the children could reach, and constantly touching up paint chips on doorways.

But now this program that provided answers and solutions will be cut.

Congress slashed the CDC's lead poisoning prevention budget by 94 percent to just $2 million in 2012.

At the same time, because of a new CDC guideline, even more kids are at risk for lead poisoning and need to be medically monitored.

"There's going to be much less money for lead poisoning prevention and that's concerning to us," said Voorhees. "We're going to have to be very creative, I think. It is going to be a cut that hurts our program."

For the Barbours, the service was priceless.

"To me it was just invaluable," said Liza Barbour. "I'm not sure if even a very conscientious parent would opt to pay for someone to do that."

The program is set to end next June in Allegheny County.

Voorhees hopes a new state grant will provide some of the funding but he admits even if they get that money, the program won't be the same.