Nonprofit targets asthma, lead woes

$1.2 million grant to aid Baltimore children

October 10, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

A Baltimore-based nonprofit group announced yesterday that it will receive more than $1.2 million in federal grants for lead-poisoning and asthma-abatement programs for city children.

In addition to the grants, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning announced a partnership with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to provide 75 emergency-relocation vouchers for families of children with lead poisoning. The vouchers' estimated worth during the next five years will be $3 million, said Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.

The coalition plans to use $1 million of the grant money for its Safe at Home program, which helps provide education and services for children with asthma. That grant, which will go to 250 Baltimore homes, came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The rest of the money comes from a $243,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - the biggest grant the EPA has given the coalition. It will help pay for a one-year campaign to educate residents in the Coppin Heights and Rosemont communities of West Baltimore about reducing lead contamination in their homes.

"We want to eliminate the possibility of our children suffering any longer," said Ruth Ann Norton, the coalition's executive director. "We have a goal to end child lead poisoning by 2010. We want to do to asthma what we've been doing to lead."

Lead hazards have gained attention in recent months because of recalls on toys made in China that contain lead-based paint. G. Wesley Stewart, the coalition's director of program services, said the tainted toys show that poisoning extends beyond lead-based paint in older homes.

One of the coalition's missions is to reduce lead and asthma hazards simultaneously. Baltimore has the highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations in the state, according to the coalition.

The coalition hopes to use the grants to reduce the number of children affected by asthma, just as it's done over the decade to cut the risk of lead poisoning.

The number of Maryland children younger than age 6 who were tested for elevated lead levels rose from about 2,000 in 1997 to more than 100,000 in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the progress made statewide, lead poisoning remains a problem in the city, where in 2005, the latest figures available, more than 30 percent of all the cases of elevated lead levels were reported, CDC figures show.

Maryland has progressed, but the city still struggles with lead poisoning. In 2005, according to the latest CDC figures, Baltimore accounted for more than 30 percent of all cases statewide involving children younger than age 6. "Lead paint and asthma-related incidents ... we can do something about," said Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore City Council president, who attended yesterday's news conference. "Not only is it something we can do something about ... we're obligated."

When Sha'Ron Rogers' two young children tested positive for lead poisoning about a year ago, the coalition helped her find new housing and deal with her landlord and, generally was emotionally supportive, she said.

"If it wasn't for them, I would have had a nervous breakdown," Rogers said.

The coalition hopes the programs can be models for efforts nationwide. Another of the group's goals is to help state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh propose a bill to the Maryland General Assembly to prohibit lead in consumer products, which they hope will ultimately become a federal law.

All the group's field employees come from communities affected by lead poisoning, a point that offers a constant reminder about why its work is so important.

"We actually see what was once a hope is now a reality, and that's an amazing thing to see," Norton said.

The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning's hot line is 800.370.5323.

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