Fairfield University School of Nursing students integral to public health initiative to get lead paint out of area homes

Puppet shows done by Fairfield University School of Nursing students are a major part of a public health program alerting residents of Bridgeport and neighboring suburbs that lead paint might exist in their homes.

Lead paint was commonly used in homes built prior to 1978. Federal legislation has banned its use since then due to its harmful side effects. However, many older homes and apartments in the greater Bridgeport region were painted with lead paint many times prior to this ban. As this paint ages, the resulting paint peel and related dust creates a health hazard, particularly for young children. That's because the lead paint dust can lead to serious medical problems, such as brain and nervous system damage, in children.

In an effort to advise the many families whose children are at risk for lead paint exposure, students of Fairfield's School of Nursing recently began performing the puppet shows - called "Mr. Lead Spot" - and conducting informational workshops at schools, churches, day care centers, and community centers throughout Bridgeport. They will soon be making similar presentations in Fairfield, Trumbull and Stratford, where, although there is less of a lead paint exposure issue, there is still a significant need to get the word out about the risks associated with lead poisoning.

The students' community outreach efforts are part of LEAP, a partnership between the School of Nursing and Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust, Inc. (BNT), funded by a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). What is different about LEAP compared to most lead programs nationwide is that it is a preventative effort targeting children at-risk for lead poisoning, according to Lydia Greiner, MSN, PMHNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing at Fairfield.

"Most programs assist families where a child is already affected by lead - LEAP is available to any family whose child is being exposed to lead," she said. "In other words, the program may prevent lead poisoning, rather than intervening after a child has already been affected. Moreover, it provides property owners with financial assistance to rid their homes of lead paint, provided they meet income guidelines."

It's vital to get rid of lead paint, Greiner emphasizes. Children who have elevated blood lead levels are more likely to experience learning and behavior problems that are linked to poor school performance.

There are a lot of Bridgeport residents who need to be aware of this concern. According to Susan Tabachnick of the BNT, over 88% of the housing stock in Bridgeport was built before 1980; 46% of the housing stock was built prior to 1950 when use of lead paint was prevalent. Lead paint was used to paint interior walls, woodwork, and exterior wood, including walls, windows, and porches.

During the recent spring semester, Fairfield's nursing students in Greiner's Public Health Nursing course conducted surveys to gauge awareness of the lead issue among Bridgeport residents, canvassing the Hollow, West End, and South End neighborhoods for feedback. Abena Banful, a recent graduate, said, "We found in our survey that most people had no idea about the risk presented by lead dust."

Students then tailored the lead awareness presentations. With the help of puppets, including one named "Mr. Lead Spot," they are demonstrating to kids how they should stay away from peeling paint and wash their hands after playing outside, touching pets, and before meals and sleeping. The students also teach adults to identify sources of lead and how to keep their homes free of lead. Banful said, "Lead can get into children's bodies when they breathe in lead dust. Even opening a window can kick it up."

Older, lead painted wood frame windows are one key source of lead dust, as their surfaces rub each other as windows are raised and lowered, creating dust on the window sill and window trough. This dust can be picked up on the child's skin, or a toy can transfer the dust to the child's mouth, or the dust can blow into the room onto the floor where the child is playing, exposing the child to lead poisoning. Cleaning with a wet cloth, vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, and washing toys frequently are ways that families can reduce the risk of lead poisoning in their homes.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 15, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 7

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