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September 28, 2019 - 10:40am

Public Health Column: Stepping up efforts to reduce childhood lead poisoning

From the Genesee County Health Department:

Often times, you are poisoned by lead you can’t even see! According to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), children under 6 years old are more likely to be poisoned with lead than any other age group.

Lead is a metal that is harmful to both children and adults when it enters the body.

Most often, children are poisoned from breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors and windowsills, hands and toys.

Only a small amount of lead is needed to harm a child’s growth, behavior and ability to learn.

Most children poisoned by lead do not look or feel sick, so the only way to know for sure is to get tested.

New York State (NYS) law requires that every child must be tested for lead at the age one and again at the age two. Providers should also be assessing a child for risks of lead exposure regularly through age 6.

NYS has both the nation’s greatest number (3.3 million) and the highest percentage (43.1 percent) of housing stock built before 1950. Houses of this age are much more likely to contain lead paint, the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning.

Governor Cuomo’s 2019 budget is responding to this public health threat by lowering the acceptable blood lead level from 15 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dl) to 5 µg/dl.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took that step in 2012 and has since been enacted in several states, including, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont. These states made their decision to move to the lower CDC guidelines based on the evidence that supports early intervention as the primary way to prevent the serious health effects suffered by victims of lead poisoning.

“Effective Oct. 1st, a child whose blood lead level is 5 µg/dl or more will be contacted by their local health department who will help families identify sources of lead and create plans to remove it by conducting home inspections,” said Paul Pettit, Public Health director.

“Lowering the blood lead action level will increase home inspections greatly. The Genesee and Orleans County health departments are prepared for this change and have hired a lead coordinator to be dedicated to this workload for both counties.”

If a child's blood lead level is 5µg/dl or more, the health department nurse will report to Environmental Department. There will be an inspection done at the house by the Environmental Department from the local health department to check for lead exposure, and an educational prevention approach by the nurse from the local health department will be done with the family to decrease the lead level in the child’s bloodstream.

There are many sources of exposure according to the NYSOH. Subscribe to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to learn about consumer products recalled for lead violations.

Sources of Lead

  • Paint (older homes, old toys, furniture, crafts)
  • Air / Dust
  • Soil
  • Water (leaching of lead solder on plumbing)
  • Folk medicines and cosmetics
  • Children’s jewelry and toys
  • Workplace and hobbies
  • Lead-glazed ceramics; china; leaded crystal; and pewter
  • Imported candies or foods
  • Firearms with lead bullets
  • Foreign made mini-blinds
  • Car batteries and radiators

Lead can harm a young child’s growth, ability to learn and may be linked with tooth decay/cavities, hearing loss, behavior problems, even to the point that Early Intervention services are needed.

Early Intervention is the term used to describe services and support that are available to babies and young children and their families with developmental delay and disabilities.

Lead can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy. Although lead poisoning is preventable, it continues to be a major cause of the problem among children.

For more information about lead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Early Intervention Services visit:

For information about Health Department services contact:

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website.

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