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Lead-paint research

Augustana College sophomores Sabrina Difiori, left, and Madison Caldwell evaluate a house Thursday on West Locust Street near North Pine Street. About 100 Augustana students collected data that officials hope will reduce or eliminate the incidence of lead poisoning and lead-based paint in homes in Scott County.

You may have seen them Thursday afternoon, about 100 young people clad in green T-shirts.

Standing on sidewalks and looking at houses, mostly in central Davenport, they would tap some information into a smartphone and move on.

They were Augustana College students, taking yet another step along the path to what officials hope will reduce or eliminate the incidence of lead poisoning and lead-based paint in Scott County.

In May 2016, Augustana and Scott County announced a partnership to tackle the lead-based paint problem in the county. And on Thursday, with Genesis Health System also part of the effort, the partnership gathered at the Col Ballroom in Davenport to talk about its progress and to move further into its second year.

"This is a really important cause," said Doug Cropper, the president and chief executive at Genesis.

Lead-based paint has, for years, been an issue with Iowa's relatively older housing stock. It is the primary suspect in children with high lead levels. Lead in the blood stream contributes to a range of health problems, including in the brain and nervous system.

About 41,000 homes in Scott County were built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned in the United States, said Michael Reisner, director of the Upper Mississippi River Center for Sustainable Communities at Augustana. That list has been narrowed to about 1,200 of the properties at the highest risk.

"If you're going to focus research and energy, these are the areas where they need to be focused on," Reisner said.

To that end, the Augustana students fanned out in several neighborhoods where a lot of these houses are located. The idea was to better refine its list of homes and also get a better idea of any other kind of structural problems.

Nick Torres, a senior, was helping to lead a group of 15 others who were headed to an area of Bettendorf, mostly south of Middle Road and west of 23rd Street.

Studying environmental science and geology, Torres has been working on the project as part of his senior inquiry. He recalled visiting with a Davenport family in which there were several children, advising them on simple things, such as moving beds away from windows, where chipping paint can be a danger.

The idea of making a difference is motivating many of the students, he said. "We're hopefully going to help a lot of people."

Scott County Administrator Mahesh Sharma, who attended Thursday's meeting at the Col, said he will recommend the Board of Supervisors set aside money in next year's budget for the effort. Former County Administrator Dee Bruemmer and Ed Rivers, the director of the county health department, were key figures in initiating the partnership.

Fundraising for the effort hasn't really begun yet. Previously, federal funds were used to pay for remediation and abatement. But the partnership is now moving toward a locally based funding model because, officials say, federal funds are limited and can be burdensome to manage.

The idea this year is to better refine the scope of the problem, then seek out partners. At $10,000 per home, abating the lead paint in 1,200 homes would cost $12 million, a substantial figure.

In the meantime, pinpointing where the highest-risk properties are has some other uses. If a baby is born to a family in one of the homes, for example, health authorities can help to educate them on how to keep their infants from coming into contact with lead-based paint or its residue.

In fiscal year 2017, there were 34 children in Scott County whose blood tested at equal to or greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the state standard requiring services. If the standard for action recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used, another 87 in the county would have required intervention, said Amy Thoreson, deputy director of the Scott County Health Department.

Since 2000, Cropper said, 1,600 kids have been affected by lead poisoning, a figure he called "almost unthinkable."

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