A decrease in the sale of lead products may have helped reduce the number of lead poisoning cases seen in children, especially in Richmond County, report health officials.
Children ages 1 to 2 should be tested for lead, and Richmond County Health Director Tommy Jarrell said doctors who find a blood lead level greater than 6-10,000 micrograms in a child should follow up with another lead test within six months. If more than 10-19,000 mg of lead are detected in a child’s blood, the parents will be asked to have the child tested every three months and the parents can notify the Health Department, who may recommend a home inspection. When over 20,000 mg are detected, testing is mandatory.
“In the past years, we have had none over 20,000 mg, but we have had some with 10-19,000 mg,” said Jarrell. “In the last few months we’ve only had one elevated case, and the parents wanted the testing in their home. A health inspector determined it was mini-blinds, which were old and from a foreign country.”
According to Ted A. Graham, M.D., medical director of the Emergency Department at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital, lead poisoning is uncommon and the symptoms of lead exposure are subtle. A host of other ailments would probably be ruled out before lead poisoning would even be considered as an emergency room diagnosis unless there was a credible history of ingesting a substance containing lead.
“Most of the time, you’re looking at behavioral problems, not doing well in school, not growing as fast as might be expected, inattentiveness, impulsiveness,” said Dr. Graham. “Constipation, poor appetite and nausea are common. Thankfully, lead poisoning is not something we will run into very often. It’s been out of house paint since 1978, and they’ve done a good job of getting it out of toys, the things kids get into.”
However, it turns out it takes only half as much lead to cause problems for children who ingest it as previously thought, prompting concern that North Carolina children could still be at risk of lead poisoning.
The CDC recently cut in half the level of exposure deemed to be a problem, but in the meantime, Congress allocated only $2 million for lead-poisoning prevention this year, compared to $29 million the year before. That leaves very few staff members to get the word out.
Medical toxicologist Dr. Jennifer Lowry said it also means that it’s now up to parents and pediatricians to become more pro-active.
“The CDC recommends that lead testing occur at the age of one year and at two years and actually annually up until the age of six years.”
The Children’s Environmental Health Branch Lead Poisoning Prevention Program recommends getting rid of miniblinds made before 1997 because they “probably have been made with lead and thus have the potential to be contaminated with lead dust that can be dangerous to your children. Since you cannot clean these effectively, they should be replaced with new blinds labeled lead-free or lead-safe.”
Dr. Lowry suggests that doctors go to the CDC website and make themselves aware of the new guidelines. She also recommends that parents talk to their pediatricians about testing. New studies have found attention problems and reduced IQ in kids who are within the new exposure guidelines. Sources of lead include toys, children’s jewelry, paint chips from old houses, and sometimes even the soil around houses.
Dr. Lowry said parents can’t just call up the health department and ask them to test their soil or their house. The children need to be tested first.
“They cannot come out to the home and assess your home for lead hazards unless there is a child that has an elevated blood lead level,” she said.
The CDC says that all houses built before 1978 probably contain some lead. When the paint deteriorates and gets into the dust it causes problems. It says that more than 20 million houses have elevated levels of lead contamination in house dust.
Dr. Lowry said doctors and parents need to be more diligent about testing.
More information is at www.cdc.gov and at tinyurl.com/8ov84mg.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.