Older Adults
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Community stakeholders offer updates on Cleveland’s lead crisis

Natasha Takyi-Micah
Treuhaft Fellow for Health Planning
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November 13, 2023
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National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week was October 22-28, 2023, where many individuals and organizations across the US held various events to increase awareness about lead poisoning prevention in order to decrease childhood exposure to lead. Organizations in Cleveland participated in this weeklong campaign, including the Lead Screening and Testing Commission, which held its quarterly meeting on October 26, 2023. Led by Dr. Dave Margolius of the Cleveland Department of Public Health (CDPH), the commission is comprised of community stakeholders whose  are to address various public health aspects of lead poisoning in Cleveland. This consists of:

  1. Lead Blood Test screening rates
  2. Follow-up of children with elevated blood lead levels
  3. Culturally competent communication/messaging around Lead Blood Tests

The new blood lead reference value shows that more children throughout Cleveland are suffering from elevated blood lead levels

Vinh Trinh, epidemiologist from CDPH, presented some data about the percentages of children in Cleveland who were tested and found to have high blood lead levels in 2022. At the request from Cleveland City Council, he created maps of elevated blood levels by census tracts (series of maps as seen below). Based on the new blood lead reference value of 3.5 μg/dL by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)more children across Cleveland have higher levels of blood lead poisoning compared to previous blood lead reference values.This means that 1,569 children in Cleveland have value of 3.5 μg/dL or more in 2022. Trinh also showed the progression on the number of children who were tested and found to have elevated blood lead levels at 10.0 μg/dL and 5.0 μg/dL (5.0 μg/dL was the former blood lead reference value). With the new blood lead reference value of at least 3.5 μg/dL, the southern areas of Cleveland should be targeted for more lead testing and prevention interventions.

Maps courtesy of Cleveland Department of Public Health Office of Epidemiology and Population Health The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition maintains a dashboard detailing lead screening and lead poisoning in Cleveland from 2021, but they will update their website in the upcoming weeks.

Updates from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition

Wyonette Cheairs and Johnese Sherron provided several updates on behalf of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition. The Coalition received money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to focus on screening and testing. They are planning to release a screening and testing RFQ by the end of this year. Through this RFQ, they hope to hire an administer who can operate two pilot programs about lead screening, testing and early intervention for Cleveland residents:

  1. Improving community-based lead screening testing rates through the creation or utilization of pediatric medical homes; and
  2. Arranging a centralized coordination point to collaborate with the CDPH and/or Cuyahoga County Board of Health on investigating positive lead tests.

The other project the Coalition is working on is the lead education toolkit. With Third Space Action Lab as the new consultant, the Coalition is looking for medical providers, educators and members of the Lead Screening and Testing Commission to test the toolkit. The toolkit will be finalized and available in February 2024. Another project they have been focusing on is rolling out the Lead Safe Home Fund 2.0 over the course of this year. This fund consists of grants and incentives for property owners who are rental owners and owner occupants, regardless of income, in Cleveland. Grants increased from $7,000 to $12,000 with each property owner being able to receive a maximum of 12 grants so that children can live in lead safe environments. Lead safe certification incentives have increased from $500 to $750 per zip code for property owners. In addition, the 20-year lead free exemption has increased to $1000 for property owners.

Lead safe certification incentives have increased from $500 to $750 per zip code for property owners.

The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition are also adding new grants and administrators through the Flamincos Foundation, Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress by the end of the year so that more buildings become lead safe more quickly. They are also collaborating with Starting Point to provide grants for lead safe childcare spaces (called the Lead Safe Childcare Program). The Coalition later plans to re-release the RFQ for relocation assistance for families who were displaced from homes due to lead. Specifically, this program will provide emergency housing assistance for families who are undergoing a lead hazard control order.

An interactive research tool to identify when parcels are lead hazardous throughout Cleveland

After updates from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, Dr. Margolius presented a city-wide survey that the City of Cleveland and Western Reserve Land Conservancy conducted called the City of Cleveland Property Inventory- 2023. This story map analyzed nearly 163,000 parcels (labeled as either occupied structures, vacant structures, parking lots, parks, with adjacent or other) throughout Cleveland. The structures are graded on an A-F scale based on the parcels’ conditions and showed examples of buildings based on that scale. Moreover, this story map provides information on which structures in Cleveland have lead hazardous characteristics such as peeling paint, bare soil, and lead placard signs (signs that explain homes have lead contamination that is unsafe for people to live in). Although no one should live in homes with placard signs, surveyors suspect that 75 percent of these properties are occupied. These are the signs that children in Cleveland could be poisoned by lead.

The Lead Screening and Testing Commission will continue to make efforts to ensure children across Cleveland will be tested for lead and they are living in lead safe homes.

The Lead Screening and Testing Commission will continue to make efforts to ensure children across Cleveland will be tested for lead and they are living in lead safe homes. Their next meeting will be on January 25, 2024, from 8am-9am.

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