SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — In recognition of Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, the Illinois Department of Health is offering $12 million in grants to communities for lead abatement and mitigation projects.

The program aims to increase lead-safe housing, reduce childhood lead exposure, and reduce the financial burden of lead mitigation for low-income residential property owners.

IPDH reports that most lead exposure occurs through contaminated dust from chipping or disturbed lead-based paint, however lead is also present in the soil, water, or other products that might end up in your child’s mouth. Exposure to lead may cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavioral problems, and even coma and death can occur at severely high levels.

The state says Illinois has approximately 2 million homes that contain lead hazards, and that children have the highest risk of exposure and poisoning. Pregnant women are also at risk, as lead can be passed to their unborn child.

“Protecting children from exposure to lead is critical for their long-term health,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra. “Even low levels of lead have been shown to affect learning and the ability to pay attention. Early detection by a healthcare provider is crucial to prevent further exposure and reduce harmful damage. As a pediatrician, I know the most important step to preventing exposure is the removal of lead hazards from the environments in which children live, learn, grow, and play. IDPH is happy to announce efforts during Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week to help local municipalities with lead abatement projects to improve the health of their communities.”

Director Vohra noted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people missed routine healthcare appointments in an effort to isolate and slow the spread of the virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, lead testing rates declined approximately 22%. However, even with a decrease in testing, there were still higher numbers of children who were exposed to lead, likely resulting from increased time spent in homes.

All children ages 6 and younger are required to be evaluated for lead exposure risks by their physician and receive a blood test, if necessary. “It is vitally important to do screening in the first year of life if children are at risk, and then again a second test one year afterwards,” said IDPH Director Sameer Vohra.

IDPH also recommends that pregnant persons be evaluated for lead exposure and tested if deemed necessary.

IDPH is currently accepting applications through November 18 from local municipalities and community action agencies for up to $12 million in grants from the Comprehensive Lead Education, Reduction, and Window Replacement (CLEAR-Win) program. Applications must be submitted through the web-based “EGrAMS” system (Electronic Grants Administration and Management System) utilized by IDPH for end-to-end grants management.

In support of this project, Governor Pritzker has declared Oct. 23-29 Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in Illinois in hopes of raising awareness about childhood lead poisoning prevention.

“Every child deserves to grow up healthy and well. Our state is laser-focused on ensuring young people have a path to a bright future and mitigating the harmful long-term effects of lead contamination is critical to that mission,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton.