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Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website:

Health Department to Make Low-income Homes Healthy

Every day, an average of 36,000 children in the United States miss school because of an asthma attack, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Unfortunately, many children are exposed to asthma triggers such as mold and dust mites, along with other health hazards, in their homes.

Now, lower income households with children can receive free home health inspections from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) to detect risks such as asthma triggers, mold spores, and lead paint.

The Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Program is funded by a state grant from the Department of Maternal and Child Health (DMCH), and is available to eligible residents of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.

Due to the nature of the DMCH grant, family must have a child 17 years or younger in the home and meet certain income requirements to qualify for the program.

ACHD public health educator Rich Paul says the inspections will focus on finding asthma triggers, mold spores, fire hazards, unsafe wiring, structural problems, carbon monoxide build up, and lead poisoning risks, among other dangers.

Paul cautioned that lead paint continues to be a huge risk to young children.

“In our area, we still do see significant amounts of lead in our environment,” said Paul. “We still have a very large portion of our homes which were built in times when lead was used very commonly.”

The program aims to inspect at least 100 homes every year for five years, or as long as the grant can be renewed.

“For this program, we have one inspector who covers all 11 counties, he’s keeping very busy,” said Paul. “He has training in healthy homes concepts. He is also a lead risk assessor.”

The inspections will include a pre-visit questionnaire and a follow-up survey after the assessment to gauge the effectiveness of the program.

Paul estimates the value of the inspection to be at least $800, but says he does not know of any private business that offers exactly this kind of health inspection.

According to Paul, eligible families should take advantage of this program even if they think their house is safe, because some health risks can be difficult to detect by an untrained eye.

Those interested in applying for the inspections can call 412-350-4048 to speak to someone from the program.