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October 18, 2000

One In Every 20 Children May Be Exposed to Hazardous Levels of Lead

National Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week starts October 22

St. Paul, MN (SafetyAlerts) - According to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, childhood lead poisoning is still an ongoing national problem.

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 by 2010.

"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 Minnesota."

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.

Selected Recent Recalls

Health Professional:

Did you know?
During 2000 there were over
1050 products recalled in the United
States for safety reasons!

How many did you hear about?

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