Safer, healthier homes

Program helps find dangers in homes with kids

BELLOWS FALLS — A new approach to health and safety that goes beyond just assessment and remediation of lead exposure in older homes has begun in Windham and southern Windsor counties.

The Lead Safe and Healthy Homes [LSHH] program, formerly Lead Safe Homes, was initiated last fall and is now being run by Parks Place Community Resource Center.

The program seeks to address all the safety and health hazards assessed in homes where there are children age 6 and under, and then provide access to resources for low-income families to make their homes safer and healthier.

The LSHH initiative at Parks Place is the state's first, according to its program director, Michelle Pong.

“No one is doing 'healthy homes' assessments elsewhere in the state, just here along the I-91 corridor from Brattleboro and Springfield, north to Windsor.” Pong said.

Because of the large number of homes built before the 1978 law that banned the use of lead-based paints, it's more important in Windham and southern Windsor counties, she said.

Pong said two grants, one from TransCanada for $5,000 awarded in December, and one from the Turrell Fund, a foundation focusing on serving children, for $10,000 awarded in June 2011, paved the way for expansion into what “made sense – to approach the whole home” for safety and health hazards.

“Healthy home inspections focus on the whole living environment - the air quality in a home, the quality of the home itself.” Pong added, “And now it is spreading through the state. It's not just lead safety.”

Pong explained that LSHH had applied specifically for a grant from TransCanada to purchase remediation supplies.

“High moisture levels are a big asthma trigger, and perfect for dust mites breeding and mold growth,” Pong said. “Putting in a dehumidifier helps mitigate these issues. Small things like mattress and box spring covers, and pillow covers for kids with dust mite allergies, can make a difference.”

LSHH also provides child safety items such as cupboard locks, outlet covers, and other physical items a family may not be able to supply themselves, Pong said.

Margaret Grisczenkow is development director at Parks Place. She said she has four children with asthma, “and the two younger ones have more severe symptoms.” She asked that her home in Chester be assessed.

The assessment occurred a month ago, and Grisczenkow said she was impressed with its thoroughness.

“They were very knowledgeable and [they did] a whole house safety inspection,” she said. “They walked us parents through, and told us constructively how they could help. At the time, I couldn't find work, which meant that being able to get the [physical safety items] wasn't feasible.”

Are the steps that were taken working?

“It hasn't been that long, and the children caught colds, so it's difficult to really tell,” she said, adding that they found the biggest source of allergens for her children were the three family cats, one of which “had kittens” and apparently caused the asthma flare-ups, especially in one daughter.

Grisczenkow said she has had a hard time placing the kittens or “finding a no-kill shelter who would take them.” They still have most of the cats, though she continues to try to re-home them.

For now, she said, “we've got them in a room [that's] separate from the main house,” and away from the daughter who has been most sensitive to the sudden increase in cat dander upon arrival of the kittens.

She assured that the cats “still get lots of cuddles and love every day,”

But she discovered they weren't the only source of allergens in the home. Grisczenkow said the Parks Place assessor found down comforters that carried dust mites, now encased in allergenic covers, and a hole where mice had access to the interior of the home, that was “now plugged up. Mice bring in dander.”

“Our house is new so the only source of possible lead exposure ... was a couple of pieces of antique furniture that belong to our landlord,” and which were tested. “We're awaiting the results.”

Lead still a problem

While Vermont no longer ranks levels of blood-lead level exposure in a population by town, Pong said the Springfield region [which includes Bellows Falls] remains one of the highest lead risk locations in the state, mainly because of the number of pre-1978 housing structures and rental properties in Bellows Falls.

Blood-lead levels tested in children and infants in Bellows Falls were among the highest in the state, she said.

According to 2007 data, however, Springfield ranked among the lowest, above only Newport, in children 1 year old and younger, testing higher than 5 ug/dl blood lead levels. For children 2 years and older, the Springfield region ranked with St. Johnsbury and Rutland in the 50th percentile - just below Brattleboro and Middlebury. Newport was in the 65th percentile, the most in that age group, as testing showed higher than 5 ug/dl blood lead levels.

But Pong said that she thinks things have been improving since 2005, in part due to the awareness education efforts that reach out to renters, landlords, and contractors about what the regulations are, what safety measures should be followed living in a pre-1978 home, or what contractors can do to prevent spreading lead paint dust into areas where children might play or live.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when “common renovation activities - like sanding, cutting, and demolition - occur in structures that contain lead-based paint, such activities create lead-based paint hazards, including lead-contaminated dust. Lead-based paint hazards are harmful to both adults and children, but particularly pregnant women and children under age 6.”

Under the EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule, contractors “performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb painted surfaces in homes and child-occupied facilities (including day care centers and schools), built before 1978, must, among other things, be certified and follow lead-safe work practices.”

In 2008, Vermont began to require annual Essential Maintenance Practices for rental housing and childcare facilities on any pre-1978 structures, as well as regulating unsafe work practices when removing paint or renovating building with lead-based paint. It requires yearly screening of blood lead level by family health care providers to ensure compliance.

“If a young child (age 6 or younger) has a confirmed blood lead level at or above 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the Department [of Health] shall, if resources permit, inspect the child's home and develop a plan to minimize exposure of the child to lead. The plan shall require that any lead hazards identified be addressed. Owners shall address those that are within the owner's control and shall not be required to abate lead hazards if interim controls are effective,” the Vermont law reads.

“It's still definitely an issue that needs to be addressed,” Pong said. “We're educating parents and we like to think our parents impact what their landlord should be doing as well. Regulations are in place that motivate landlords to do things in a safe way and seem to have positive effect.”

Pong said that Bellows Falls Health Officer Ellen Howard is inspecting homes, and that she will get a call from Howard occasionally about landlords.

“She tries to work with them, which is a much easier way than holding a club over their heads. The landlords referred to me are not malicious,” Pong said. “They just don't understand. Not everybody, including landlords, is aware of [how lead-based paint] physically affects” tenants and their children.

Pong said that Parks Place offers free EMP classes for landlords every month. The next class is April 18 in Brattleboro. For information and class locations and schedules, visit

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