October 18, 2000One In Every 20 Children May Be
Exposed to Hazardous Levels of Lead
National Childhood Lead
Poisoning Prevention Week starts October 22
Paul, MN (SafetyAlerts) - According
to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, childhood lead poisoning is still an ongoing
Nationwide, some 890,000 children
under the age of six or almost 1child out of 20 in that age group have
elevated blood lead levels. However, elevated blood lead has been found in roughly one out
of every five African-American children who live in housing built before 1946.
Children are the group most at risk for the kinds
of health problems that can result from lead exposure. Adults who are exposed to lead will
quickly eliminate almost all of it from their bodies, but children can retain around 68
percent of the lead they take in, for up to several weeks.
At concentrations greater than 10 micrograms per
liter the level at which blood lead levels are considered to be
"elevated" lead poisoning can affect a child's intelligence, behavior and
development. At levels of 45 micrograms per liter or greater, it can cause seizures, coma,
or even death.
Although there are a number of potential sources
of lead in the environment, the primary concern for young children is the leaded paints
that were used in homes up until 1978. Four out of every five homes built prior to that
time have at least some lead-based paint on interior or exterior surfaces. Roughly 1.4
million homes in Minnesota fit that profile.
When leaded paint in these older homes begins to
deteriorate, young children can end up ingesting paint dust or paint chips which
tend to have a slightly sweet taste because of the lead content. Home renovation
activities can worsen the problem, allowing lead dust to accumulate on the soil around the
home, and releasing paint chips that may end up in a child's mouth.
Despite recent progress in reducing childhood lead
poisoning rates, lead exposure remains one of the leading environmental health risks
facing our state's children, according to Commissioner Malcolm.
"The number of Minnesota children diagnosed
with lead poisoning declined from around 4,000 in 1995 to approximately 2,500 three years
later," Commissioner Malcolm said. "Obviously, we're pleased to see that kind of
progress. But we also believe those figures may not reflect the full extent of the problem
that lead poisoning may still be going unrecognized in many children.
"That's why we feel it's important to keep
public attention focused on this problem," she said. "We need to continue our
efforts to make sure all at-risk children get screened for lead poisoning, and to
eliminate potential sources of lead exposure in older homes. Childhood lead poisoning is a
potentially devastating illness, but it's also entirely preventable. That's why we have
made it one of our top public health priorities."
To help draw public attention to the issue of lead
poisoning and mobilize community efforts to reduce lead poisoning in children
Commissioner Malcolm has declared Oct. 25 to be "Minnesota Childhood Lead
Poisoning Prevention Day." The event coincides with the national observance of
Oct. 22-29 as "National Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week." Both events
are part of an ongoing effort to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the United States
"We hope that this event will raise awareness
of childhood lead poisoning, for physicians as well as members of the general
public," she said. "We have enlisted a wonderful group of partners to help us
with this effort including both community groups and dedicated individual
volunteers. We believe they can help us carry our message to the people of
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has been
actively involved in producing educational materials for homeowners, in an effort to help
them avoid exposing children to the lead that may be present in cracked, chipped or
peeling paint. Those efforts include providing detailed information for people who are
renovating their homes.
Information about how to prevent lead poisoning is
available from the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD, or the MDH
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at (651) 215-0776.
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