12/21/09 — Stopping lead exposure a county priority

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Stopping lead exposure a county priority

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 21, 2009 1:46 PM

Despite advances in construction safety over the years, some children are still being exposed to levels of lead poisoning created by paint and other building materials, health officials say.

But the danger is not just posed by buildings. In recent years, there have also been recalls of toys and such products as cribs, crayons, mini blinds and sidewalk chalk due to excessive levels of lead.

State health officials work to keep current on information about children tested in each county, and Wayne County has made efforts to do annual screenings for lead poisoning.

Statewide in the target population -- children under 6, with a focus on those between the ages of 12 and 24 months old -- 90 out of 100 counties increased their Medicaid blood lead testing rate last year.

For that time period in Wayne County, 3,574 Medicaid-enrolled children were tested. About five tested positive.

While that's a low percentage, it is still more than officials like to see.

"Zero is what percentage of children should have lead in their bodies," said Brenda Bass, environmental health specialist with the county's Health Department.

Part of the solution, she said, lies in understanding lead hazards in a child's environment.

Typically, an investigation is done of the child's primary residence, Ms. Bass said.

"We do a surface-to-surface check -- check paint, different areas of the house, furniture, a lab analysis of toys and dust on the floor and other items (such as) phone cords, electrical cords, pottery," she said, adding that even dust, soil and water may be culprits. "If there's a positive reading, we try to tell the parent while we're there."

A report is generated for the parent and also the owner of the home, if the family rents, and health officials then try to come up with a solution to the problem.

"There's requirements and recommendations dep-ending on the blood lead level. If it's high enough to poison the child, there's requirements that have to be done by a certain time by the parent," Ms. Bass said. "If it's not considered to be a poisoning hazard, there's recommendations we give to the parent and owner."

There are also medical interventions that can be offered by health care providers, she said.

But mostly, it's about education and prevention.

And while in years past, the problem was more easily contained because houses were family-owned and therefore maintained by relatives, that is often no longer the case. More homes are rented out and often the owner is notified to comply with regulations to make the home lead-free.

Not only that, Ms. Bass said, but there are o ther options that must be considered.

"It may be in child cares, supplemental addresses because there's other places children go besides their homes, and then we want to make sure that they're doing a medical follow-up, medical intervention for that child, receiving supplements and making sure the blood level is going down," she said.

At present, Wayne County stacks up well against other counties around the state, said county Health Director James Roosen.

And while the local rate reflects testing of more than 77 percent of the target population of the county's Medicaid children between 1 and 2 years of age, he said parents still need realize all the hazards that still exist for children.

"Parents should be aware of any flaking paint or dust in their home, especially if it is a pre-1978 house, but also learn about product recalls," Roosen said. "It is only by being aware of what our children are eating or breathing that we can keep them safe and healthy."

For more information contact Ms. Bass at 731-1174 or brenda.bass@wayne gov.com.