We can do more to prevent lead poisoning in kids

October is Children’s Environmental Health Month! Oh, you didn’t know? This month may be better known for ghouls and goblins, but our Lead and Toxics Team has put together a series of blog posts that are sure to give you goosebumps.

By Chiemeka Ohaebosim, policy developer in the Lead and Toxics program

Both the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) have stated that there is no safe level of lead in the blood. Once inside a child’s body, lead can cause permanent damage, including decreased muscle and bone growth, poor muscle coordination, damage to the nervous system, speech and language problems, behavioral problems and developmental delays. And yet, Washington is one of the many states failing to test kids for lead poisoning.

In fact, we’re among the worst performers, missing more than 50% of lead poisoning in children due to lack of testing. In fact, only about 4% of kids in King County are getting tested! Lead based paint is the most common way kids are exposed to lead in King County. A large number of homes in King County were built (and painted) before the late 1970s when lead was banned from paint. Chips and dust from that paint are the main ways that kids are exposed to lead.

Luckily, Public Health is on the case.

Our Lead and Toxics team is working to find ways to increase blood lead testing of children 1-5 years of age. In conjunction with the Best Starts for Kids program, we are working on a marketing campaign to bring wider awareness to the problem of lead and the need for kids to get tested countywide. By identifying lead poisoning early, we can work with families to prevent further long-term exposures. Our team is also working to identify areas where our kids are the most susceptible to lead exposure. We know that some people are more vulnerable to exposure as a result of their housing quality, work conditions, and whether they live near industrial areas.

We’ve also been working to influence state and local policy around this issue. Our own King County Board of Health recently adopted a resolution protecting our children from lead. We also helped develop statewide guidelines and recommendations for screening and testing children’s blood lead levels.

But, we can’t tackle this issue alone. Healthcare providers, we’re looking at you. Don’t assume your patients aren’t at risk. Follow Washington state recommendations for blood lead testing of children, and when in doubt, order the test.

Parents, we need your help too. Talk with your child’s doctor or nurse about having your child’s blood tested for lead exposure. Testing is covered as a part of your child’s general healthcare by Apple Health at 12 and 24 months or if your child has not been tested before the age of 6. If your child’s blood lead is above 5 ug/dL, your doctor can work with you on a treatment plan, which may include a referral to our team at Public Health for an environmental consultation. Early detection is key, and treatment is available.

Additionally, do what you can to minimize your child’s exposure to potential lead sources:

  • Take your shoes off – leave the dirt outside
  • Damp dust & mop once a week
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking, sleeping
  • Wipe down toys
  • Bring in clean garden soil and establish raised beds when gardening
  • Check to see if you live in the Tacoma Smelter Plume and have your soil tested for high lead and arsenic
  • When possible, choose outdoor play areas that have fresh ground cover (bark or grass) and are free of paint chips

To stay informed on our work on this issue, visit our website. Lead poisoning is preventable, and missing it can be devastating. We need to do better, and we all have a role.

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