GARY — The city's Health Department said it was awarded a $27,840 grant to test children for lead poisoning and conduct outreach at day care centers.

The city’s older housing stock — where lead paint is present because it wasn't banned until 1978 — is oftentimes the culprit, lead case manager Rodina Iacovacci told members of Gary Finance Committee on Tuesday night.

Indiana children with confirmatory blood lead levels of 10 ug/dL or higher qualify for case management services, she said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 reduced its action level for lead poisoning cases from 10 ug/dL to 5 ug/dL, a stronger standard. However, Indiana's action level remains 10 ug/dL.

Historically, Gary has some of the highest rates of lead-poisoned children in the entire state of Indiana, according to 2005-2015 preliminary state health department data.

Over that time period, 24.5% of children tested above 10 mcg/dL in one census tract just south of U.S. Steel and bordered by Broadway to the west, Ninth Avenue to the south and Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee streets to the east.

State health department experts caution that number may be skewed because those figures also included initial screening results, false positives and unknown sample types. ISDH has said on average, about half of preliminary results are later confirmed as elevated.

Still, nationally, 1.9% of children are estimated to have elevated blood levels above 5 ug/dL — the lower CDC standard.

The only census tract in Lake County that comes close to rivaling Gary's highest is in East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhoods, where alarming levels of lead were discovered in summer 2016, forcing an evacuation that involved more than 1,200 residents, including 600 children, from the West Calumet Housing Complex.

In that census tract, about 21.7% of children tested at or above 10 mcg/dL. The EPA has designated the area a Superfund site targeted for cleanup.

In and around Gary's Tolleston section and in a census tract that includes the Aetna neighborhood, 6-9% of children had elevated levels, according to the state data. In the downtown area and the city’s Midtown section, percentages range from 10% to more than 20%, data shows.

Some committee members told Iacovacci they had concerns the Community Development Block Grant is hardly enough to be effective, but Iacovacci said she hopes to stretch the dollars and have “a few hundred” kids tested.
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