PEORIA — Peoria County has been awarded a lead abatement and home safety grant of historic proportions.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded Peoria County $5.6 million, almost half the amount awarded to the entire state of Illinois, which is receiving a total of $11.3 million. The money is part of a $319 million federal investment in the effort to rid homes across the U.S. of lead and other health hazards.

“It’s historic, it’s tremendous,” said Joseph Galvan, the Midwest regional administrator for HUD, during a press conference the Peoria City/County Health Department Wednesday morning. “Why did it go to Peoria? One, because obviously there’s a need, but two, we know that our partners here are going to get the job done.”

Administrators at the health department have used HUD dollars well in past efforts at lead abatement. Since efforts are ongoing, there are currently about 100 houses on the waiting list for lead abatement services, said Monica Hendrickson, administrator of the PCCHD.

“Since 2007 our agency has sought funding to assist in addressing lead and home health hazards that affect not only children and families, but the community at large,” said Hendrickson. “The Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction and Healthy Homes grant by HUD will be the largest our agency has received… To date, we have received $12 million thru federal and state and local funds, that have helped us with 889 properties, with more than 800 children benefiting from our work. The new $5.6 million will allow us in the next few years to work on another 380 homes impacting hundreds of children here in our community.”

At the top of the list are the homes of children who have tested positive for elevated lead levels.

“Part of Illinois state law requires that children are routinely tested, as early as 12-months-old, for lead,” said Hendrickson. “When they are identified as having a high blood level, of five or greater, they are referred back to the health department to do follow up nursing assessment as well as environmental assessment.”

Families who meet the financial requirements can apply for HUD funding to cover the cost of lead abatement in their dwelling.

There are also other ways families to take advantage of the HUD grant. Homes built before 1978 are more likely to contain lead paint, and those are predominantly in the 61604-61606 neighborhoods. People concerned about their exposure will be able to apply for HUD funding, and in the coming months the PCCHD will be doing outreach to let people know how to do that, said Hendrickson.

In addition to making the housing stock in Peoria safer, the grant is also expected to have a positive economic impact in Peoria. At the head of the effort to ensure that there are enough contractors trained in lead abatement to get the job done is First District City Councilwoman Denise Moore, who is also the executive director of the Minority Business Center.

“When Monica told me what they are trying to do, I could have kissed her,” said Moore during the press conference. “Because it has been so much of a struggle for minority contractors to get work, to get recognition, to get the educational and training they need to elevate their opportunities for the work that is coming along. Thank you for allowing the minority business Development Center to help be a part of this, to develop these minority contractors, because that is huge for our community.”

Moore told the crowd that she has been “over the moon” since learning about the grant. It will help her constituents in more ways than one - by creating jobs, and by giving them a healthier environment.

“The First District on the south side, and some of the homes on the North Valley, were some of the first homes built here in Peoria. A lot of the homes with children and families growing there have these issues of lead paint that need to be addressed,” she said. “So I am so ecstatic with Monica Hendrickson’s work to bring this grant to fruition. This is going to be a game changer for my district.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.