SOUTH BEND — The city’s stubborn problem with lead-poisoned children caught the attention of Ruth Ann Norton, one of the nation’s leading experts on the topic who visited here Monday.
Norton, president and CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, offered words of wisdom for South Bend during a presentation at the Near Northwest Neighborhood Community Center.
The presentation, titled “A Blueprint for Action: How We Can End Lead Poisoning in 5 Years,” highlighted steps taken by other cities, such as Baltimore, that South Bend could learn from.
One of the key steps for South Bend, Norton said, will be to develop a plan to channel more funding toward efforts aimed at making homes lead-safe.
“You need to look at remanaging and repurposing funds that are flowing into South Bend more effectively ... Figure out what (housing) standards to set and what you’re willing to enforce,” said Norton, whose nonprofit is dedicated to ensuring children live in lead-safe homes. She has authored 35 pieces of safe housing legislation and led the development of a five-year national lead elimination plan.
In South Bend, many older homes have peeling, flaking lead-based paint, which was banned by the federal government in 1978 because of its harmful effects on children. Officials have blamed the problem on paint inside homes and in the soil surrounding them — not on drinking water.
Lead-based paint in old homes has been a stubborn problem in South Bend, dating back decades. But local officials began focusing on the area’s problem after the state released testing data in late 2016 that showed an unusually high percentage of young children had elevated blood levels from 2005 through 2015 on the city’s near northwest side.