Manchester is getting a $2.9 million grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to remediate lead hazards in 175 housing units.
While this is the fourth time the Queen City has received the federal grant, the announcement from Senator Jeanne Shaheen's office comes on the heels of a new state law aimed at educating families about lead hazards, and as one of the state's largest landlords faces a lawsuit over lead contamination in a Manchester apartment complex.
Chipping lead paint is a health hazard around the state, especially in low-income housing. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause permanent cognitive disabilities, especially in children under six.
Lead paint was banned under federal law in 1978, but Todd Fleming with Manchester’s Planning Department points out New Hampshire has one of the oldest housing stocks in the country.
"The majority of the housing stock within Manchester is built before 1978," says Fleming. "So basically anything before 1978 could have lead."
Lawsuit highlights a statewide problem
Lead poisoning is most often a problem for low-income children, who are more likely to live in old, dilapidated housing. But a high-profile case heading to court in mid-September proves an exception to that rule.
Almost forty tenants of Mill West, a luxury apartment complex on Manchester's waterfront, are suing their landlord, Brady Sullivan Properties, and a contractor for lead exposure. A spring construction project in the building coated nearly all the apartments in Mill West - and some in a neighboring Brady Sullivan property - with high concentrations of lead dust. The EPA forced a clean up in the building, but not before Brady Sullivan downplayed the health risk the lead dust posed to its tenants.
By most accounts, New Hampshire's lead laws lag behind neighboring states. Even under the law passed in the last legislative session, the Granite State only requires a landlord to remediate lead once a child in the unit has a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter - that is double the rate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider poisoned.
The new law also aims to close the gap on childhood lead screening. In 2013, only 16.5 percent of New Hampshire children six years and under were screened for lead. Massachusetts and Vermont screen children at rates approximately four five times higher.
In 2013, the most recent year with available statistics, more than 1,000 children in New Hampshire were poisoned by lead. Manchester is one of 14 cities, counties and state targeted with the HUD grant.