The debacle of lead-poisoned children in Flint, Michigan reminded us of the insidious and permanent impact of this toxic poison on a child’s brain. However, millions of children (and seniors) living in older homes, especially ones with flaking paint, are still being lead poisoned. Today, the vast majority of children who become poisoned by lead come from lower-income families of color—those least able to shoulder this added burden. This is where community-based nonprofit organizations—especially the 1,000+ groups that weatherize and retrofit older homes across the country—can step in and play a key role.
This paper shows how Isles, Inc., a Trenton, NJ–based community development and environmental organization, learned new ways to think about the threat of dangerous homes as a system, and develop low cost ways to change it. The organization tested and developed low cost ways to remove lead, asthma triggers and other threats from homes, train local contractors and health workers, educate residents, and perform these tasks for under $10,000 per unit. This is a fraction of the cost of treating the symptoms of just one lead poisoned child.