October 24, 2012
Prevention efforts in Minnesota have reduced number of kids with elevated blood lead by 87 percent over last 17 years
Health officials and families stress need to sustain past work as nation observes Lead Poisoning Prevention Week
Prevention efforts over the last seventeen years have dramatically reduced the number of Minnesota children with lead poisoning, according to officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
MDH and its partners in the community have been actively working to prevent lead poisoning since 1995. During that time, the number of Minnesota children tested each year for lead poisoning has tripled, from 35,000 in 1998 to almost 100,000 in 2010. At the same time, the number of children with blood lead above 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL) – the level currently defined in state law as "elevated"– decreased by 87 percent, from 4,339 in 1995 to 584 in 2011.
MDH officials and child health advocates are currently celebrating these gains, as the nation observes Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (Oct. 21-27). But they are also quick to warn against complacency.
Citing recent research in the field, MDH officials are now emphasizing that no level of lead exposure is considered "safe." Local public health nurses in Minnesota now begin working with families to eliminate lead exposure when blood lead levels in their children exceed the more conservative CDC "reference level" of five ug/dL. During 2011, over 3,000 Minnesota children were found to have blood lead levels exceeding five ug/dL
"Many of the families we work with thought childhood lead poisoning was a thing of the past, until it affected their own children," said Megan Curran, Director of Community Programs for the St. Paul Office of CLEARCorps USA. "But three-fourths of the homes in Minnesota were built before 1978, when the use of lead paint was banned in residential housing. Children living in these homes may still be at risk."
Children can also be exposed to lead from a variety of other sources, Curran said. It can get into drinking water from lead plumbing or supply pipes. It can make its way into the home from the workplace. It may be present in soil. In some cultural communities, it has been found in snack foods or home remedies.
"When parents find out that their children are being exposed to lead, and that they may have lead poisoning, the impact on families can be devastating," Curran said.
Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, emphasized the importance of continuing the prevention efforts that have made it possible to reduce the incidence of lead poisoning in Minnesota.
"Lead poisoning is an entirely preventable health problem," Dr. Ehlinger said. "The decrease in lead exposure that we have seen over the last few years is a major public health victory, but we need to sustain the efforts that have made it possible. We still have homes and communities at risk, and we still have work to do."
Dr. Ehlinger noted that preserving past gains in preventing lead poisoning may be a challenge, in light of recent cuts to CDC support for state prevention efforts.
Parents can take a number of steps to help reduce the risk of lead exposure for their children, according to MDH officials:
- 1. Get your Home Tested. Before you buy an older home, ask for a lead inspection.
2. Get your Child Tested. If you have children under age six, ask your doctor to test them for lead - even if they seem healthy.
3. Get the Facts! Your local health department can provide you with helpful information about preventing childhood lead poisoning.
For additional information on lead poisoning and the MDH prevention program, go to: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/.