By Mari Hamilton, Public Health Educator in Genesee and Orleans counties
Lead in gasoline and paint has been banned in the United States since the 1970s, yet lead exposure and poisoning is still a problem in too many households.
Did you know that today, exposure and poisoning from this toxic metal still affects millions of people? While lead is harmful for everyone, it is even more dangerous to children and can cause lifelong and life-threatening health problems.
In an effort to combat this ongoing problem, the last week in October is recognized as National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
Paul Pettit, Public Health Director of Genesee and Orleans Counties, wants to remind our community that knowledge is power.
“Lead poisoning can be prevented,” he said. “The key is to keep children from coming in contact with lead. Take time this week to learn about ways to reduce your child’s exposure to lead in their environment and prevent its serious health effects.”
Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing in lead dust. The most common sources of lead can be found in the soil, chipping paint, household dust, contaminated drinking water from old plumbing, lead-glazed pottery, some metal jewelry, and at some jobsites – typically construction, manufacturing and mining.
“Although the use of lead was banned from products such as paint since 1978, many homes in our communities still have remnants of old lead paint in them,” said Sarah Balduf, Environmental Health Director of Genesee and Orleans counties. “Old chipping paint, particularly around window sills, door frames, banisters, and porches, can cause a serious problem, especially in young children who tend to spend most of their time crawling or playing on the floor.”
Local data shows the majority of the homes in our communities were built before 1978, indicating lead may still be present even under fresh layers of paint. According to the 2016 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates there are approximately 25,657 total housing structures in Genesee County; 76.3% were built in 1979 or earlier with 39.6% built in 1939 or earlier. In Orleans County there are approximately 18,509 total housing structures; 76.2% were built in 1979 or earlier with 45.1% built in 1939 or earlier.
The chipping paint that Balduf described can produce a dust that is easily ingested by young children who often put their hands in their mouths. This is just one example of how lead can enter their bodies and harm their health by disrupting their growth and development, increasing behavioral problems, and lowering the child’s IQ. Many organs in the body are affected by lead, including the liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, spleen, muscles and heart.
There are typically no signs or symptoms to help you know if your child has lead poisoning. A person with lead poisoning usually does not look or feel sick. The best way to find out if your child has lead poisoning is by testing. The most common test is a quick blood test. It measures how much lead is in the bloodstream.
According to the New York State Department of Health, it is required that children are tested for lead at age 1 and again at age 2. Children will continue to be monitored for lead at well-child visits until they reach age 6. Pediatricians will explain what the child’s blood level means and if their levels are within a healthy range. Pregnant women should also be tested as they can pass lead to their unborn baby. High levels of lead during pregnancy can cause miscarriage and stillbirth. Other pregnancy problems may include low birth weight, poor growth and premature delivery.
Lead testing rates in Genesee County from 2016 reveal that 56.8% of children were being tested for lead at age one and 54.2% of children were being tested for lead at age 2. Lead testing rates in Orleans County from 2017 reveal that 57.9% of children were being tested for lead at age one and 51.9% of children were being tested for lead at age 2.
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week increases awareness for a year-round problem. Educating yourself about the dangers of lead poisoning and ways to lessen lead exposure will benefit the health and wellbeing of your family. Take action today by reviewing these simple steps to reduce lead exposure in your home.
• Keep a clean and dust free home.
• Use a damp cloth and a damp mop to reduce the spread of dust.
• Teach good handwashing habits.
• Consume a diet with foods that are rich in nutrients such as calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
• Good nutrition and regular meals can help prevent lead poisoning since there are many good nutrients being absorbed in the body. An empty stomach has the ability to absorb more lead and store it in the bones. Supporting strong bones and a healthy body will help minimize the amount of lead absorbed in the body.
• Be mindful to not bring lead home on clothes from jobsites or working on hobbies.
• Let cold water run for 1 minute before drinking it, especially if it has not been used for a few hours.
• Fix and repair peeling paint safely. Contact your local health department for more information on how to do so.
Take time to talk with your doctor or health department staff to learn more about your risk of lead poisoning or visit the New York State Health Department by clicking here.
For information about Health Department services in Orleans County, call (585) 589-3278 or click here for the website.