Lead-based paint in your home?

Not every situation has to look this bad to pose a danger from lead-based paint. Sometimes, the risk comes from “dust” produced by friction when an otherwise well-maintained window painted with lead paint is opened and closed.

‘Free money’ available to fix problems in rental or owner-occupied homes

COVINGTON, Ky. – A program set up to protect children and their families from lead-based paint in old homes still has substantial amounts of money left for rehab-repair efforts, and the City of Covington is seeking applications.

The homes can be owner-occupied, rentals, or vacant.

“Our main goal is to get the word out,” said Jeremy Wallace, Covington’s Federal Grants Manager. “We want to make sure everyone knows this is a grant – this is free money. Applicants will have to comply with program requirements, of course, but this is free money.”

Contractors have already finished work on four homes through the City’s Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program. The repair/renovation work will start soon on six additional properties, and 12 more are in the application or review stage.

But the program can accommodate a lot more properties.

Shortly after the City received $1.66 million from the federal government for the program in 2019 (the only local government in Kentucky to be awarded money), Wallace said the City expected to be able to “fix” about 58 homes or apartments over the program’s three years.

Slow progress

But the pandemic has slowed everything down.

“When we first got the funds, we did press, we had great stories in the local news, and we got some initial applications. Then COVID hit,” Wallace said. “We want to get the program going strong again so that we can help as many households as possible with the remaining funds.”

The program is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by Covington’s Neighborhood Services Department.

Eligible homeowners and owners of rental properties can use the grants to identify lead hazards and do the necessary rehab work to control or eliminate them.

If lead is found, contractors are hired to either remove or replace the lead-painted part of the house (such as plaster, baseboards, windowsills, and doors); remove the paint from it; or enclose/encapsulate the paint. The “fix” generally takes 10 days or less.

The lowdown on lead

Lead is toxic to the human body even in small quantities.

Congress outlawed the use of lead-based paint in 1978 after researchers and health professionals determined that breathing its dust or swallowing tiny chips of paint could cause health problems, particularly in young children under 6, but a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicated that more than half of all U.S. children have detectable levels of lead in their blood. Those elevated levels, the study stated, were closely related with race, poverty, and living in older housing.

Since the pandemic, most applicants have come through referrals from the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD), which provides screenings, oversees treatment, and works to remove lead risks in homes.

Since 2001, the NKHD has documented 284 investigations in Northern Kentucky regarding young children who had lead poisoning. Nearly all of those cases were associated with buildings that were built prior to 1978 and contain lead-based paint, including properties in the older river cities of Bromley, Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Dayton, and Bellevue.

Of those, 196 properties (more than two third) were in Covington.

Wallace said the danger is often hidden: “You can have a perfectly well-maintained unit, but it can still have lead hazards.” For example, paint might appear in good condition, but risk can come from “dust” produced by friction when a window painted with lead paint is opened and closed.

Silent symptoms

Young children risk contact with lead-based paint in older homes where paint is deteriorating or chipping. Lead can enter their bodies when they touch the paint, or paint dust, and put their contaminated hands in their mouth. Because their young bodies are still developing, the health effects of lead exposure are particularly harmful. Elevated lead levels can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, blood, and nervous system.

Early confirmation of lead exposure – done easiest with a blood test – is critical.

Since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there are no apparent symptoms when a child is exposed to lead, it’s critical that families consult their pediatrician to make sure, Wallace said.


To be eligible, properties must be located in Covington and have been built before 1978. Properties can be occupied or vacant, and they can be owner-occupied homes or rental units, including (Section 8) Housing Choice Voucher properties.

The application must be made by the property owner, but a tenant can bring a property to the City’s attention, Wallace said.

The application packet and program guidelines can be found online HERE or picked up at City Hall at 20 W. Pike St. If you have questions or need help filling out the application, contact City Housing Development Specialist Archie Ice II at or (859) 292-2124.

Eligibility requirements include household income limits.

For owner-occupied homes, heavy priority will be given to those occupied by children under 6 (or a pregnant woman) or in which children under 6 visit frequently. Owners of rental units and vacant units must give priority in renting those units to families with children under 6. 

Children under age 6 in eligible properties will be tested for elevated lead-blood levels, unless they’ve been tested in the prior six months or their parents or legal guardian seek an exemption. Any child with an elevated blood level will be referred for appropriate medical follow-up.

“This is a great program, and we need people to take advantage of it,” Wallace said.

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