SIERRA VISTA — By today, Doyle Reynolds will know if some families can move back into their living quarters at the Stanley Apartments after the facilities were cleared of lead paint.

Twenty apartments in the low-income living facility at the corner of Wilcox Drive and South Garden Avenue are part of a project in Cochise County that is funded by the federal government to eliminate lead-based paint, said Reynolds, who is the Cochise County Housing Authority’s program manager for lead paint abatement programs.

Before the Stanley Apartments were cleaned up, 24 quarters in the Pueblo Apartments in Sierra Vista were worked on. Starting Monday, 15 of the 19 at the Village Apartments in Sierra Vista will be done, Reynolds said.

The current grant of more than $2 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, is the second from the U.S. government, Reynolds said. In 2003, a more than $2 million grant was used to clean up apartments and homes in the Douglas area.

The current grant will help “inspect and clear 138 residences as being lead safe,” he said. “To date, 62 will be clear by the end of September.”

Lead-based paint is expected to be found in any structure constructed prior to 1978. The Stanley Apartments is one of the oldest multi-family complexes in Sierra Vista, having been built in 1957.

The owners of the apartments sign agreements that allow for the abatement process to take place, Reynolds said. In the agreement, the apartment owners agree that they can’t raise rents on the apartments for three years, the apartments are to be rented to low-income people, and they must maintain the facility to ensure lead isn’t reintroduced, he said.

The apartment owners also did some in-kind work by cleaning up the outside area of the apartments, including trimming trees and bushes so contract workers could have easier access to the outside areas, especially since some of the lead paint problems were around windows, Reynolds said. Another area of concern where lead readings were high was in the shower areas.

Attempts to reach the owners for comment were unsuccessful. The company that had the contract to clean up the Stanley Apartments was G&G out of Tempe, he said.

Reynolds hopes local contractors will eventually win bids now that four of them have been trained and are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to do the work. The local companies now meeting the certification requirements are Gar Construction, Sierra Remodeling, Sunbuilt Homes and Doug Oakes Electric. During the clean-up process, the families were moved to a hotel. The rent is paid by the government grant, along with a daily living stipend of $23 per adult and $15 for each child per day, which is provided to pay for such things as meals.

On Wednesday, Reynolds re-took samples of the areas that had been cleaned to send off to a lab in Phoenix. By 10 a.m. today, he expects to have the results. Families will be allowed to return if the results indicate the lead problems have been cleared.

“We have a six-hour turnaround (time) on the testing,” he added.

It’s not only apartment complexes that are eligible for federal fund assistance. Owner-occupied homes for low-income people with children younger than 6 years old living in them also can qualify or assistance. About 10 to 15 percent of the grant money goes to helping individual low-income home owners, Reynolds said.

Several houses in Bisbee are qualified, he said. They will be done as grant money is received.

Using an X-ray fluoresce type machine, initial tests were done at the Stanley Apartments “and high levels of lead were found, some so high that they were beyond the machine’s ability to read them,” Reynolds said.

Lead poisoning is a problem leading to medical problems, which can cause death, especially in children. That’s why the lead paint abatement program is important and why the county’s housing authority is active in eliminating lead-based paint from structures, he said. “There are many children in the county with elevated levels of lead in their blood,” he said, noting the problem is extensive because so many of the living facilities were constructed way before 1978, when lead-based paint was highly used throughout the nation.

Effects of lead

Lead poisoning can enter a person’s body through inhaling dust containing lead or by ingesting the substance through the mouth.

This is especially true when it comes to children.

The U.S. government’s recent concerns about toys from China having high levels of lead paint on them, led to the recall of many of the items, along with bans on certain imports from China, as well as a demand that the Chinese government do closer inspections of factories where toys for export are manufactured.

There are many symptoms that can point to someone having lead poisoning including irritability, aggressive behavior, low appetite and energy, difficulty in sleeping, headaches, reduced sensations, loss of previous development skills in young children, anemia, constipation, abdominal pain and cramping, vomiting, staggering gait, muscle weakness, seizures and coma.

Complications for children can lead to reduced IQ, slowed body growth, hearing problems, behavior or attention problems, failure at school and kidney damage.

Sources: Medline Plus and National Lead Information Center

Herald/Review senior reporter Bill Hess can be reached at 515-4615 or at bill.hess@svherald.com.