In 2008, 27 percent of the children tested for lead in Marion County had an elevated lead level. Why do we test for lead, what does it mean and what can we do?
Lead exposure is one of the most common preventable poisonings of childhood. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that 6 percent of all children ages 1-2 years have blood lead levels in the toxic range. Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior.
Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.
It has been documented that high lead levels can lead to ADHD, autism and other learning disabilities. Adult IQ scores are associated with childhood lead exposures that were measured at or below the CDC’s level of concern. The IQ scores declined with higher blood lead levels.
Lisa Martin BSN, WIC Coordinator at Marion County Public Health states, “Every child that we see at our WIC clinic is tested yearly for lead from ages one through five through our child health program. If their lead levels are elevated, the child health nurse refers the child to their primary physician for a health evaluation. We then refer the family to Marion County Environmental services to help them determine the source of the lead exposure and what they can do about it.”
Last year, 386 children were tested for lead at Marion County Public Health.
In Marion County 33 percent of the homes were built before 1950. The reason this is an important statistic is because lead paint was banned in 1978, so the older the home the more layers of paint that may be present and peeling making it easier for curious little hands to get those paint chips into little mouths.
Lead can also be found in the ground being stirred up during remodeling or construction and breathed into the lungs. In addition, a large majority of our older housing is occupied by young families, including landlord/tenant situations. Those environments often contain lead-based paint hazards that young families and children are exposed to.
Parents should make sure that their homes are free of lead paint. In Iowa lead testing is required prior to a child’s entry into kindergarten. A simple and inexpensive blood test can determine whether or not a child has a dangerous level of lead in his or her body. The test can be obtained through a physician or Marion County Public Health.
Early identification and treatment of lead poisoning reduces the affects of lead poisoning. Unfortunately, the damage caused by lead poisoning to a developing child is largely irreversible and children are caused permanent damage and disabilities that will last their entire lifetime or can even cause death at very high levels. Treatment begins with removal of the child from the sources of the lead. Treatment or dietary modifications can remove lead from the body but once the damage is done it can’t be reversed. That is why prevention is so important.
If your home was built before 1978:
• It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child may spend a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or daycare). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
• Talk to Marion County Environmental Health about testing paint and dust from your home for lead or abatement of lead sources.
• Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
• Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
• Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Until environmental clean-up is completed, parents should clean and isolate all sources of lead. They should close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
• Regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil containing lead from peeling or chipping paint.
For more information visit the Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Lead Poisoning Prevention or call Marion County Environmental Health.