Health Department urges testing young children for lead paint

Posted 24 October 2019 at 3:15 pm

Press Release, Orleans and Genesee County Public Health Departments

Each year, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (Oct. 20-26) is a call to bring together families, organizations, and local governments to increase lead poisoning prevention education and awareness.

“Lead poisoning is preventable!” stated Paul Pettit, Public Health Director of Genesee and Orleans Counties. “Parents and caretakers can reduce their child’s exposure to lead in their environment and have their children tested for lead at ages 1 and 2.”

The 3 key themes of NLPPW are:

  1. Get the Facts: Find out about the hazards of lead.
  2. Get Your Home Tested: Find out how to minimize risks of lead exposure by hiring a certified professional to test older homes for lead.
  3. Get Your Child Tested: A simple blood test can detect lead. Consult your health care provider for advice on testing your children.

Lead can be found inside and outside the home, including in the water that travels through lead pipes or in the soil around the house. However, the most common source is from lead-based paint.

Most homes built before 1978 have old lead paint, often under newer paint. If paint peels, cracks, or is worn down, the chips and dust from the old lead paint can spread onto floors, windowsills and all around your home. Lead can enter the body by breathing in or swallowing the lead dust (especially during activities such as renovations, repairs or painting).

Lead poisoning occurs when lead enters the bloodstream and builds up to toxic levels. Children less than 6 years old are especially at risk because of their small size and developing brains. Children are most commonly exposed to lead by eating paint chips or chewing on surfaces coated with lead-based paint, such as window sills. Children also tend to put their hands and/or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health and cause:

• Damage to the brain and nervous system

• Slowed growth and development

• Learning and behavior problems

• Hearing and speech problems

During pregnancy, lead can cross over from the mother to the baby. High levels of lead in the blood during pregnancy could affect the baby’s growth and development. This could affect a baby’s hearing, vision, and ability to learn. Very high levels of lead can lead to bleeding, miscarriage (death of fetus), or stillbirth (dead at birth).

A blood lead test is the only way to find out if your child has been exposed to lead and has a detectable blood lead level. Most children with detectable levels of lead in their blood have no obvious symptoms.

New York State requires health care providers to test all children for lead with a blood lead test at ages 1 and again at 2. At every well-child visit up to age 6, health care providers must ask parents about any contact their child might have had with lead. If there’s been a chance of contact, providers are required to test for lead again.

One of the most important things parents, caretakers, and medical providers can do is have children screened for lead at ages 1 and again at 2. The goal is for all children to be tested for lead at these ages.

The table below shows local data from 2018 in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Lead testing and early detection can prevent long-term health problems for your child and their future. Make sure to talk to your child’s doctor about lead screening at their next appointment.

County           % of Children Tested at 1            % of Children Tested at 2

Genesee          63.9%                                      59.8%

Orleans            60.6%                                     55.3%

Wyoming          63.0%                                    61.0%

“Effective October 1st, 2019 a child whose blood lead level is 5 µg/dl (micrograms per deciliter) or more will be contacted by their local health department who will help families identify sources of lead and create plans to remove it by conducting home inspections,” Pettit explained. “In addition, Public Health Nurses will work with the family and the child’s Primary Care Provider to support the process. Public Health Nurses will contact the parents/guardians to discuss the child’s diet, growth and development, and how to prevent further exposure to lead. The nurses will work with the child’s provider’s office as well to make sure future testing is scheduled, allowing for the blood lead levels to be monitored until they fall below the action level.”

To learn more about the New York State Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, please click here.

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