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Brooklyn Center family gets new windows through Hennepin County lead program

Shanika and Vastyne Wilson remember when their kids tried to open the bedroom windows after moving into their Brooklyn Center home. “They didn’t open, so we told them to leave them alone,” said Shanika. “All the other windows in the house were new, but those four windows looked different.”


“They were pretty old windows, considering the house was built in 1956,” said Vastyne.


The Wilsons didn’t know it then, but those bedroom windows were more than non-functioning. They were dangerous. They contained lead, which was commonly used in house paint until Congress banned it in 1978 due to health concerns.


The family’s Realtor had suggested reaching out to Hennepin County to get the windows tested. When the Wilsons contacted the county, Risk Assessor Andrew Urch visited the house with a couple of cases of high-tech equipment, including a handheld x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer which tests for lead.


Urch pointed out flakes in the bedroom window sills. “[There are] a lot of paint chips, where paint has broken free from the surface,” he said. However, the bigger problem is what happens when lead paint is disturbed. “Every time this window closes down on those paint chips, it can create a little bit of dust,” said Urch.


Visible paint chips aren’t the only issue. There can be hard-to-see paint inside the window mechanism. “If there’s lead in that sash that’s moving up and down, the friction will create a little lead dust that will come into the house,” said Urch.


That’s a hazard, especially for children, who can experience permanent brain damage by ingesting lead. Each year in Hennepin County, hundreds of kids are found to have lead in their bodies. That’s why Hennepin County conducts free testing and offers up to $15K in lead-removal work for eligible families.


“You eliminate a hazard that could cause you problems, and you might get some free windows out of the deal,” said Urch. “There’s just no downside.”


The Wilsons were impressed by how easy it was to get help from the county. “They gave you all the information you need and showed you how to go about filling out the application,” said Vastyne.


“There weren’t no hoops that you had to jump through,” said Shanika. “Both of us work full time, and we were able to qualify.”


The Wilsons will be getting new windows installed later this month. The family will also be staying at a hotel while the work is being done. “People usually go stay in a hotel, and that’s all paid for through the program,” said Urch. “These are free improvements. They are funded through federal dollars,” said Urch. “Who wants to turn that down?”


Under the program, risk assessors also act as program managers, lining up contractors to remove the lead and checking the work afterward. That means Urch will be a familiar face for the Wilsons throughout the whole lead-removal process.


Urch will also check the work before the family returns home. “What we do is clearance testing at the end to make sure all the work was done the way it was supposed to be done,” he explained. “The people will have the peace of mind to know those lead hazards have been addressed, and they’re no longer gonna face that hazard.”


To qualify for the lead-removal funds, applicants must meet income requirements and live in a home or rental property built before 1978. Additionally, a child under the age of six must live at the property or visit regularly.


Vastyne recommends the program, which has removed lead from more than 4500 homes. “They do pretty much 90% of the footwork, so that’s a beautiful thing.”


Vastyne and Shanika are also grateful they won’t have to worry about their kids’ health anymore. Or getting them out in case of a fire. “We literally would’ve had to break the windows to get them out,” said Shanika.


To find out more about the Hennepin County lead-removal program, go to https://www.hennepin.us/residents/property/lead-paint-hazards

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