Urban Environmental Program in New England
Community Development Pyramid
Lead Poisoning Prevention in Providence, RI
Lead poisoning is a preventable disease, which makes the health effects on children from lead exposure especially tragic. Childhood lead poisoning is one of the most serious environmental health problems in the state of Rhode Island. The prevalence of children with elevated blood lead levels in the state of Rhode Island is more than double the U.S. rate. For Hispanic children, the rate in Rhode Island is nearly six times the national rate. In 1995, one out of every three children tested in the City of Providence under the age of six had elevated blood lead levels.
Lead poisoning is linked to housing conditions and the burden of lead poisoning is disproportionately borne by low-income families, especially those who live in Providence's absentee-owned rental properties. These deteriorating structures and the hazards they create affect the quality of life of entire neighborhoods. Rhode Island has the fourth oldest housing stock in the nation, with 43% of the stock built before 1940 and over 75% built before 1970. Nearly 300,000 housing units in Rhode Island have potential lead paint hazards and associated lead-contaminated yards. Of these units, over 90,000 are low income households. Low income households account for nearly 30% of the homeowners in Rhode Island. Overall, 31% of the low-income owners have housing problems and the rate rises to 41% for minority owner households. Hispanic owner house-holds have the highest percentage with 43.8% experiencing housing problems. In addition to poor housing quality, Providence also has nearly 4,000 city-owned urban residential vacant lots which are host to illegal dumping and a home for rats.
Click on each phase of the pyramid to examine the value and success of the UEP's multi-stakeholder, community-based approach to focus federal resources to support community priorities and create safer environments to reduce the number of children with lead poisoning in Providence.
Phase 1: Understanding the Problems & Identifying Stakeholders
The UEP started its work in Providence by hosting community focus groups and meetings to understand the most important problems facing residents. These meetings and discussions with local leaders identified lead poisoning and rats at top priorities. The UEP started working with The Childhood Lead Action Project (The Project), the only community group in Providence exclusively dedicated to lead poisoning prevention, and provided funding to stabilize the organization and support outreach and advocacy efforts representing low-income and minority families with lead poisoned children.
The UEP identified other local stakeholders that could help understand the depth and extent of lead poisoning sources and contamination throughout Providence. The UEP engaged EPA New England's Lead Program staff and held a day-long "Lead-in-Soils Charrette" with a diverse set of community stakeholder participants to examine the problem of lead in soils and create landscape contractor specifications to reduce lead in soils and created a community manual and poster for homeowners to keep families safe from lead in their yards. The UEP also started to work with the Environmental Studies Program at Brown University to research and analyze housing stock conditions and investigate possible correlations with lead poisoning rates, and with the Olneyville Housing Corporation (OHC) to survey housing quality in Olneyville and South Providence and identify lead exposure pathways for children.
These successful small-scale projects helped define the lead poisoning problem in the city and set the stage for identifying more comprehensive projects that would allow these stakeholders to work in partnership to reduce lead poisoning rates.
Phase 2: Building Community Capacity & Developing Local Partnerships
UEP continued to support The Project's efforts to inform and empower urban families to keep their children safe from lead poisoning through prevention. The Project spearheaded "Train the Trainers" education programs to train local leaders to share prevention strategies and techniques with parents. The Project organized three successful lead conferences designed for environ-mental and public health leaders, parents, and families to learn about lead poisoning sources, methods for abatement and prevention, and treatment options for children. The UEP worked with The Project to provide support to engage parent participation and help involve Brown University, Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), local Congressional leaders, and the Mayor's Office in the events.
The UEP participated on all three subcommittees of the Providence Safe Housing Lead Task Force (LTF), created by the mayor in 1998, and helped find common ground among stakeholders with differing objectives to ensure that the subcommittees continued moving for-ward to finish the task force report. One key programmatic challenge facing LTF participants was existing lead regulations and policies. The regulations and policies focused mainly on lead poisoning detection, rather than prevention or abatement. The participants identified that there were inadequate state and local resources to enforce existing city housing codes and a lack of political will to prioritize enforcement efforts. Despite these challenges, the window for advancing a comprehensive lead poisoning prevention policy for Providence was now firmly open.
Phase 3: Leveraging Public Resources To Improve Public Health & The Environment
The UEP continued to work with and support The Project to expand its outreach and education efforts through "Lead Safe Parties" and engaging parents to advocate for change. UEP provided funding, technical expertise, and staff time to work with community partners to develop the LTF final report recommendations and identify next steps for action. The Mayor of Providence formally adopted all the recommendations in the final report and created a Steering Committee to guide and oversee implementation
The UEP and community partners began identifying ways to secure additional public resources to implement the LTF final report. The UEP worked with local government, The Project, and other LTF stakeholders to apply for a U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Lead Based Paint Hazard Control Grant. The partners were awarded $4 million in resources to perform education and outreach, and lead restoration programs in Providence neighborhoods over three years.
It was also clear to community partners and the UEP that lead poisoning was not solely a housing problem, and also included lead contaminated vacant lots and residential yards. The UEP worked with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and the City of Providence to provide resources from EPA New England's Laboratory to screen vacant lots for lead. The UEP organized volunteers and EPA New England staff to collect and analyze soil samples from 170 city-owned vacant lots.
The UEP also continued work with Brown University and the City of Providence to gather information from agencies, organizations, community groups, and residents on a range of environmental issues including lead poisoning. These shared project successes enabled the UEP program to begin a slow transition from a prominent leadership role to become an effective partnership that would work together to achieve results.
Phase 4: Effective Partnerships
Effective partnerships join diverse stakeholders who work together to define and meet clear goals and achieve desired results. The UEP provided funding for the Lead Task Force Steering Committee (LTFSC) to work with community partners to take the recommendations and turn them into a coordinated action plan. The committee contained city officials, the Rhode Island Department of Health, UEP, The Project, The Office of Attorney General, and a number of other community-based organizations, who worked for nine months to turn the LTF final report into a detailed Goals Management Plan (GMP) that outlines specific tasks and timelines for progress.
The UEP also helped community partners launch a lead-safe yard program for residential properties statewide in Rhode Island. Working with the Rhode Island Housing (RIH) and Mortgage Finance Corporation through the statewide Lead Hazard Reduction Program, the partners received a $250,000 grant through EPA's Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) program. The project creates lead safe yards at owner-occupied, home-based daycare units in low-income neighborhoods across the state.
The LTFSC partnership and successful expansion of joint projects, combined with the continued leadership from The Project and the RIDOH, set the stage for some incredible and measurable environmental results.
Phase 5: Healthy Communities
The significant recorded drop in children below the age of six who had elevated blow lead levels is the result of years of work of many people, organizations, and thousands of hours of time and our community partners, especially The Project, deserve the credit for always leading the charge. LTFSC is not solely responsible for this dramatic improvement, but its work had a positive impact in focusing federal resources to support education, outreach, and remediation work. Progress made in enforcing lead standards, holding negligent and recalcitrant landlords accountable, years of work by The Project and The Get The Lead Out Coalition to reach out to urban families about ways to prevent lead poisoning, increasing lead inspections, and securing more funding significantly contributed to reducing elevated blood lead levels in Providence children. To track the implementation of the GMP, the LTFSC is creating a measurement and communications tool to evaluate tasks accomplished and progress made. This tool will release information to the public and will help maintain accountability for results and continue progress to eliminate lead poisoned children in Providence.
Based on their exemplary work in lead outreach and education, The Project continues its leadership role to respond to the incidence of lead poisoning in Rhode Island in general and in Providence specifically. The Project is creating a Rhode Island Lead Collaborative for community groups and public entities to service other urban cities in Rhode Island. This will be the first attempt to create a state-wide outreach and education agenda for lead poisoning and will hopefully set the stage to find innovative solutions to ensure that one day there are no more lead poisoned children in Rhode Island.