GOSHEN — When Ed VanderMolen was growing up, the health hazards that lead-based paint poses to children were rarely mentioned. Now, it is part of his job.
As a contractor for Elkhart County’s lead hazard control program, VanderMolen has helped remediate dozens of homes in the area, getting rid of dangerous lead paint and making the houses a safer place to live.
“We’ve worked on three or four different places where the kids were lead sick, and I think one or two were reaching lethal,” recalled VanderMolen, owner of Victory Construction in Elkhart. “I like doing this because you really know that you’re helping somebody out.”
Fine dust created by lead paint chipping and chafing can lead to health problems among young children who inhale or ingest the particles. Long term effects can include learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing, brain damage or even death, according to the county’s health department.
“I would hate to see a child end up that way and have it be irreversible,” VanderMolen said.
For the past few days, VanderMolen has been working to remove lead paint from a home in Goshen owned by a young couple with infant twins. Both Goshen College graduates, Brian and Anna Yoder Schlabach returned to the city last fall after living in New Mexico to be closer to their families.
“We may not have even thought about it, about there being lead in the house, until our realtor said this is something that we should get taken care of,” Anna Yoder Schlabach said.
VanderMolen is replacing nine windows and shelving in a bedroom closet in the two-story home. The project is part of a $2.5 million grant that the county’s lead hazard control program received last spring to remediate up to 140 homes in Elkhart County by May 2015. The program has already finished working on 22 units, and 20 others are now under construction, according to program director Carrie Brunson.
The program applies to homes that were built before 1978 when lead paint was banned for household use in the United States. Families must have at least one child under the age of 6 who lives in the home or visits often. The program requires that the children get tested for lead poisoning. To be eligible, families must earn an annual income that falls at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income and agree to pay up to 10 percent of the cost of the work on their home.
Though the work on Brian and Anna Yoder Schlabach’s home is relatively simple compared to other projects VanderMolen has been a part of, the construction would have cost the couple as much as $5,462. But with the help of the abatement program, the husband and wife were only responsible for $287 of the total cost.
One of the largest projects VanderMolen worked on was at an apartment complex last winter near downtown Elkhart, which included the replacement of 152 windows, drywall work in some of the units, stripping decks and even working on ceilings that were peeling.
“That one took us about three months,” VanderMolen said.
Anna Yoder Schlabach said the weeklong project at her house has been seamless, adding that she was happy to know that her children’s new home will be a safer place for them to grow up.
“We realized that this could have been a real issue once the babies start crawling around,” she said. “They’re getting more to that point where they’re moving around a lot more and everything ends up in their mouths, so it feels great that we’re getting it taken care of now.”