UAMS, Public Health Coalition Kicks Off Lead-Based Paint Awareness Campaign

By Kevin Rowe

LITTLE ROCK – An alliance of public health advocates today announced a campaign to educate families about the potential long-term and serious health problems in adults and children caused by lead-based paint and urge construction contractors or anyone renovating old homes to use practices that minimize exposure to dust from the paint.


Arkansas still has many structures built prior to 1978, when the federal government banned use of lead-based paint due to health concerns. Children exposed to lead dust can suffer from hearing, balance and memory loss, in addition to developmental problems. Adults can suffer damage to their central nervous or reproductive systems.


The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Home Instruction for Parents of Pre-School Youngsters (HIPPY) program have joined forces with five Arkansas communities to highlight lead-safe practices required by a federal Environmental Protection Agency rule set to take effect in 2010.


The group effort, Arkansas People Participating in Lead Education (APPLE), is planning a series of lead education workshops for contractors and families. The workshops build on other efforts to distribute information on how to prevent exposure to lead-based paint, protect children and meet the new EPA regulation.


Alesia Ferguson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, recently received a one-year, $243,000 EPA grant to support the APPLE campaign.


“The presence in these communities of so many inhabited structures that may still have lead-based paint or lead paint dust shows why it is critical to communicate lead-safe practices to contractors and families,” said Ferguson, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “It is good to be able to address this serious public health problem through such a broad coalition of environmental, health and community people and organizations.”


Working with the city officials in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Marianna, Pine Bluff and Helena-West Helena, the coalition wants to educate building contractors and the public about the health threat posed by lead dust in older houses where lead-based paint was used. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2004 showed that at least 20 percent of the structures in Jefferson, Lee, Phillips and Pulaski counties were built before 1979 and could possibly have lead-based paint.


Common renovation activities like sanding and scraping and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paint. Under the EPA rule, beginning in April 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.


“The best treatment for exposure to lead is to clean up the houses where lead dust is a threat,” said Richard Nugent, M.D., M.P.H., Arkansas Department of Health Family Health Branch Chief and a professor in the UAMS Boozman College of Public Health.


Adults working on renovation projects – such as painters, plumbers, electricians and contractors – also can suffer from health problems associated with lead dust.


Workshops are being planned in each of the participating communities for contractors, those renovating old houses and parents.


The contractor workshop will focus on lead-safe practices for renovation work and the new EPA rule. The parent workshops will discuss the health risks of lead dust, how to know if a child has been exposed to lead and when a lead screening may be needed. Other topics will include lead safety and dietary habits that can mitigate lead exposure, such as regular vitamins and minerals as well as a low-fat diet.


Ferguson noted that a higher incidence of lead exposure is often linked to those in lower socio-economic groups, whether because they often live in older homes or lack access to proper health care or a diet that would alleviate lead exposure.


“The communities where we are starting the awareness program have significant numbers of families with children under age 5 living below the poverty level, something that underscores the importance of APPLE’s efforts,” Ferguson said.


UAMS and the state agencies will coordinate workshops and lead-safe education effort. Community organizations ACORN and HIPPY, a school readiness resource organization for parents, will assist with reaching out in the communities where they are active to promote the workshops and the messages on lead safety.


Until the 2010 rule goes into effect, APPLE recommends that anyone performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes, child care facilities and schools contain the work area, minimize dust and cleanup thoroughly when the work is done.


More information about the new EPA rule, along with lead-safe guidelines and practices is available online at The APPLE Web site is


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. Visit