Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - 8:48am

​​​​​Lead poisoning is one of the most preventable diseases affecting children, and yet there are still children in Dane County who have high blood lead levels. In 2017, 73 children in Dane County had blood lead levels of 5ug/dL or higher, indicating lead exposure.

It is an important public health concern ” says John Hausbeck, Environmental Health Supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC). “Although anyone can get lead poisoning, young children are particularly vulnerable because their normal behavior of putting their hands, toys, and other things in their mouth, increases their risk for exposure. Lead poisoning can affect their growth and development and cause lifelong learning disabilities, developmental delays, and other behavior and health problems.”

Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing lead. The most common cause of lead poisoning is when young children play near areas where there is lead dust and paint chips, usually in housing built prior to 1978, when lead-based paint was used. They can get lead dust or chips on their hands and toys and when they put their hands in their mouth, they can get lead poisoning. Lead in drinking water is another source of exposure and usually comes from older water pipes.

"A blood test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning,” says Hausbeck. “Children 6 months to 6 years are most at risk, especially if they live in or visit older housing. Consulting with your child’s health care provider will help determine your child’s risk and need for testing.”  PHMDC plays a key role in preventing lead exposure, identifying and treating lead poisoning, and advocating to address the problem.

  • As a preventive measure, PHMDC identifies areas of the county that have higher concentrations of older homes with children and offers free home visits to families with children under age 6 in pre-1978 homes. Information is provided on possible lead hazards in the home, and how to prevent lead exposure.
  • Last year, PHMDC provided recommendations to school district and child care facilities about the need to test water and if necessary, actions to take to reduce the amount of lead in the water.
  • When a child is identified with lead poisoning, both public health nurses and environmental health staff get involved.
    • Public health nurses work closely with the family and their health care provider to assure the child is receiving appropriate medical care, including follow-up blood testing and, if warranted, assess the development of the child. In 2017, 81 children received case management services due to elevated blood lead levels.
    • Sanitarians investigate the home for sources of lead poisoning and provide guidance and support in minimizing exposure and remediating the lead. They also respond to complaints about lead hazards in the community. In 2017, 42 housing units or childcare sites were inspected and advised about lead risks.
  • The PHMDC Laboratory tests water for lead, as well as paint and varnish chips. It is a good idea to test for lead on surfaces containing old paint and varnish before painting or remodeling. When remodeling, a lot of dust from lead paint can be created and spread quickly, so it is important to know if you are dealing with lead paint and then take measures to renovate safely.

There is no safe level of lead exposure in children. The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable.

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