By Kristin Jones
There are neighborhoods in Denver where nearly one in 10 children tested show high levels of lead in their blood, according to an analysis of city data by The Colorado Trust last year.
That’s an alarming rate—higher than Flint, Mich. at the height of its water crisis. The Denver tests are unconfirmed, and some are likely to be false positives. But the risks of permanent developmental damage to local kids are real enough that the city applied for and recently won funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address lead risks in 130 Denver homes over the next three years.
The $2.8 million grant makes Denver the only municipality in the state that can offer this kind of help to families living in housing with lead paint that’s in poor condition—the biggest source of lead exposure for children nationwide. Many of the most deeply affected neighborhoods in Denver are communities of color or have high rates of poverty.
Candi CdeBaca is an activist who grew up in the north Denver neighborhood of Swansea and lives there now. She says she’s hopeful that the funding will be put to good use in her zip code of 80216, where preliminary tests have shown as many as 9.5 percent of children have increased levels of lead in their blood. CdeBaca believes a high prevalence among neighborhood children of health problems like learning disabilities—which can be a result of exposure to lead—are too often blamed on genetics or family history.
But she’s concerned that some of the people that the grant is meant to benefit won’t be able to take advantage of it. Renters may be afraid of anything that could increase the value of their homes and create an incentive for landlords to raise rents, at a time when gentrification is pushing out long-time residents—many of them Latino.