State Sen. Hughes finds money to help fight Philly's lead paint scourge

1951 Bonitz Street, the house with the yellow awnings, where Gregory Jackson and Sophia Pope's youngest son was poisoned by lead paint. More than 90 percent of the houses in Philadelphia were built before the 1978 lead-paint ban. ( JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer)

State Sen. Vincent Hughes will announce Thursday that he has secured two grants to help  attack the scourge of childhood lead poisoning in Philadelphia.

One $35,000 grant will go to the Overbrook Environmental Education Center to train about 150 contractors and others on how to renovate old homes without creating lead hazards. The other $90,000 grant would go towards the city’s effort to remediate and make homes lead safe. The state Department of Community and Economic Development will fund both programs.

“We view this as a start, just the beginning,” Hughes (D., Phila.) said Wednesday. “We have a lot more to do in this area.”

Hughes’ announcement came two days after Mayor Kenney outlined a city plan to prevent children from getting lead poisoned in the first place.

The moves by Hughes and Kenney came on the heels of a Inquirer/Daily News/Philly.com investigation, “Toxic City.” The first part of this ongoing series showed that almost 40 years since the federal lead-paint ban, thousands of Philadelphia children, year after year, are newly poisoned by lead at a far higher rate than those in Flint, Mich., where drinking water was the culprit.

In Philadelphia, one of the oldest cities in America, the main source of the toxic metal is deteriorating paint in aging homes.

“It’s one very serious health issue that has a ripple effect in every aspect of a child’s life,” Hughes said. “A child has a bout of lead poisoning and it doesn’t go away. It impacts their learning.”

Hughes also said he will introduce legislation early next year to designate some $250 million for lead-paint remediation across the state. He envisions a matching grant program in which local towns would identify homes with lead hazards and foot part of the bill to remove the danger.         

“The lead issue was a huge issue years ago in the late 1970s and 1980s,” Hughes said. “The federal government used to spend a ton of money on remediation. We haven’t been able to get a good answer why the effort petered out.

“As we become more knowledgeable about the impact of lead, it requires us to become more engaged and pick up our effort to address the issue…. It has to be our goal to eradicate the problem.”

Hughes said Kenney asked him to serve on the mayor’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group, a new task force announced Monday. That group will help the city select the homes to be remediated using the grant money, Hughes said.       

Hughes is scheduled to announce the grants at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Overbook Art and Environmental Center, 6134 Lancaster Avenue.