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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
U.S. HUD Regional Director Kelly Jorgenson speaks as Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams holds a press conference highlight an effort to find and fix problems in some homes locally that pose a risk to young children for lead poisoning in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.
(Lead has) consequences to the health and development of children, and it's preventable. —Mayor Ben McAdams

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County has received a $2.5 million grant to help end lead hazards to children in homes built before 1978.

Mayor Ben McAdams on Wednesday announced the from grant the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund the Lead Safe Salt Lake program.

"(Lead has) consequences to the health and development of children, and it's preventable," McAdams said.

Randy Jepperson, housing director for Salt Lake County, runs the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, which includes the Lead Safe Salt Lake program.

Jepperson said the program's main focus is on homes built before 1940 that have a 90 percent chance of lead traces. He also said homes with wood-framed windows or those built before 1978 are a concern.

One couple's 1942 home got a facelift a little more than two years ago with the help of Lead Safe Salt Lake. Now, their 17 grandchildren can visit without the threat of lead poisoning.

Gary and Carma Sagers said they're happy with the remodel and the opportunity to update their home.

"It's the greatest thing," Gary Sagers said. "The program is just tremendous, and we're happy that we're residents of Salt Lake County so that we could qualify for this improvement and remodel."

He said the main renovations took three to four weeks to finish. During that time, the couple was unable to stay in the home for about three nights, which he said wasn't too much of an inconvenience.

"It was just fine," Gary Sagers said. "We feel, compared to the benefits of the program, it was not bad."

Jepperson said there are about 1,000 children in Salt Lake County who have lead poisoning of some degree.

According to Salt Lake County census data, 29,940 homes were built before 1940 and 188,600 were built before 1978.

Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said there aren't specific symptoms for lead poisoning.

In most cases, children are more irritable, their stomachs hurt, they don't want to eat and they sleep poorly, Vitek said. The biggest concern is when the lead affects their brain or nervous system, she said.

"All of a sudden, those children start having behavioral problems," Vitek said. "They're irritable, they are hyperactive, they have developmental problems, not developing how they should be. That definitely is going to be a problem."

Kelly Jorgensen, HUD regional director, said the department has awarded $98.3 million through the program, funding 38 projects across the nation.

Jorgensen said in the six-state HUD region that includes Utah, Salt Lake County was the only applicant to receive funding.

"I think that says a lot about the county," he said.

To qualify for the program, homes must be built before 1978, with children under the age of 6 living in the home. Applicants' income also cannot exceed a guideline depending on family size.

McAdams said those who think they qualify or want more information should call the county at 385-468-4886.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar