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DHS warns about lead poisoning risk for Wisconsin children

Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 5:36 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As children spend more time at home because of the pandemic, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services wants to remind parents who live in a lead-hazard home to be careful as it could put their kids at a higher risk of lead poisoning.

Brian Weaver, Wisconsin’s lead policy advisor, said since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a decrease in blood lead testing in children.

“So statewide we have seen a decrease in blood lead testing among children, particularly where we closely monitor those at the age of one and two where we really want to see the blood lead testing happening,” said Weaver.

Weaver said lead-based paint is typically found in homes built before 1978 and it’s the primary source of lead exposure to children.

“There are over an estimated 350,000 homes in Wisconsin with lead-based hazards,” said Weaver.

Weaver said unfortunately many of the same families living in older homes with lead hazards are also among the populations being hit hard by COVID-19.

“The impact has been on disruption for some families being able to seek the regular health check screenings for their children,” said Weaver. “There’s an unequal distribution of total lead poisoning by race and ethnicity. With black children making up a small portion of tested children, just under 20%, but accounted for almost half of all that poisoned children in Wisconsin.”

As kids spend more time at home, whether it’s because of a school or daycare’s response to COVID-19, Weaver said their risk of lead poisoning could increase.

“They are spending a high percentage of time in their home and if it’s a home that is unsafe or there are lead hazards. There is a chance of having increased exposure to those lead hazards,” said Weaver.

That is why DHS is encouraging parents, despite the pandemic, to get their kids tested for lead poisoning.

“What we do know is that because of the reduction in blood testing that we are identifying fewer kids at this time, fewer children who may be poisoned,” said Weaver.

If that number continues to decrease, Weaver worries that a child’s life could be permanently impacted.

“There is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage and negatively affect learning behavior and health through a child’s life,” said Weaver.

Weaver said the DHS continues to use federal and grant dollars to combat lead poisoning prevention, treatment, hazard abatement and surveillance.

“Governor Tony Evers issued Executive Order 36 in July of 2019 to prevent lead exposure through a comprehensive coordinated statewide effort,” said Weaver. “This order directed DHS to lead an interdepartmental effort. to identify and implement solutions to states lead poisoning problem, recognizing that collaborations with local health departments and public private organizations would need to be maintained, strengthen and expand it.”

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