Today, childhood lead poisoning is considered one of the most preventable environmental diseases among young children, yet an estimated 500,000 children under the age of 6 have elevated blood-lead levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As we observe Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in late October, Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD) staff has joined with local government and non-profit partners to remind residents to take action to prevent and address lead poisoning. While lead poisoning can affect a person at any age, we’re particularly concerned about the effects of lead in children. A simple blood test for your child can prevent permanent damage that will last a lifetime.
There is no safe level of lead in blood. Lead exposure is particularly harmful to young children because the developing nervous system is vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, even at levels that do not cause obvious signs and symptoms. Exposure to lead may cause a range of negative health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Adults who are or have been exposed to lead can also pass lead to their babies when breastfeeding.
What can you do?
Get the facts. Learn how to prevent lead poisoning.
Get your home tested if it was built before 1978. Ask for a lead inspection before you buy a home.
Talk to your doctor about testing for lead if you have children under the age of six, even if your child seems healthy.
Which children should be tested for lead exposure?
The CDC especially recommends testing for young children if they:
- live or spend time in a house or building built before 1978
- are from low-income households
- are immigrants, refugees, or recently adopted from less-developed countries
live or spend time with someone who works with lead (such as those who work in construction) or whose hobbies expose them to lead
Children may not exhibit any signs of lead poisoning, yet without treatment, the damage could be permanent. The only way to know if a child has elevated levels of lead is to have them tested by a physician.
What services does RCAHD provide for lead exposure?
When a physician reports a child (normally age 6 or younger) with a high lead level to RCAHD, an environmental health specialist and public health nurse case management team will jointly make visits to the child’s home (and other places the child may spend time, such as day care centers or babysitters) to learn how the exposure may have occurred.
Because lead-based paint wasn’t banned until 1978, more than 80 percent of homes have lead-based paint. For example, in Roanoke City, 87 percent of homes were built before 1978 and are at risk of having lead-based paint. Typically, dust wipes and samples from chipping paint, water and/or soil are collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis to learn the source of lead in the child’s environment. The case management team also advises the parents of proper diet and cleaning practices to reduce the child’s lead levels.
The goal of the RCAHD’s joint effort with local governments and nonprofits is to prevent childhood lead exposure before any harm occurs. Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, but if caught early, there are things parents can do to prevent further exposure and reduce damage to their child’s health. For more information, visit RCAHD’s Lead Poisoning website (vdh.virginia.gov/roanoke/lead-poisoning-prevention/).
-Dr. Cynthia Morrow, health director for Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts