RICHMOND, Ind. — Exposure to lead in children can cause lifelong health effects.
The exposure, usually from paint in homes built before 1978, can damage the brain and nervous system, cause learning and behavioral problems, retard growth and development or cause nausea and hearing loss, according to a Wayne County Health Department press release.
Effective July 1, the Indiana State Department of Health reduced lead levels in children it considers elevated. Lowering the blood lead reference and another law that expands testing and goes into effect Jan. 1 are steps toward reducing the risk of lead exposure in children.
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“It’s so important to know your child’s lead levels,” said Dr. David Jetmore, the county health officer, in the release. “Early detection and the ability to stop exposure to the lead can reduce the effects of exposure to a child.”
The state’s new reference for blood lead is 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, which is equivalent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s level for children under 6. However, the CDC says lead exposure is not safe for young children who are are particularly vulnerable because their bodies are developing and growing rapidly.
“Lowering the blood lead threshold in Indiana has been a years-long process that involved working with health care providers, local health departments, and legislators to identify the resources and funding needed to ensure more Indiana children were not tested for lead alone, but that people with elevated levels can get appropriate services,” Kris Box, the state health commissioner, said in the release.
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“The CDC clearly states that no level of lead is safe in a child, and we are grateful to state legislators for providing funding through House Enrolled Act 1007 to support our efforts to do more testing and case management to improve our health. most vulnerable Hoosiers.”
Health department responses now start at the 3.5 blood reference level. The health department will inform families about lead risks and advise that siblings be tested when a child is found with blood lead levels between 3.5 and 4.9 micrograms per deciliter.
With a blood lead level of 5 or more, a child is enrolled for case management with the health department. This includes a home visit by trained case support staff and a home risk assessment by a licensed assessor. Participating families receive information about possible lead-containing objects or surfaces in the child’s environment and about available support services.
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The home assessment involves testing home surfaces where lead hazards may exist. Families get help dealing with surfaces that are dangerous for lead.
Across Indiana, the lower thresholds are expected to increase the number of cases involving nearly 600 children to about 2,000. Wayne County was told it could expect more than 50 new cases when the threshold was lowered. The county has many older homes with lead paint that shows when more recent paint cracks.
Plastics, toys, jewelry and other consumer products can also be sources of lead.
“Every Indiana child deserves to be protected from the dangers of lead exposure,” Box said. “Unfortunately, before this funding became available, some counties were able to offer case management to children with lead levels between 5 and 9.9 micrograms per deciliter, and others were not.
“These changes help ensure every child has access to the same level of case management and make Indiana one of the nation’s leading states by offering case management services at a level of 5.0 or higher.”
State Representative Brad Barrett, a Richmond Republican representing District 56, helped introduce new legislation that would require health care providers to offer pilot screening to all children under age 6. Parents do not have to agree to the test.
The state had only required that children covered by Medicaid be tested for lead after 12 and 24 months.
The Wayne County Health Department provides blood lead testing during all 12-month and 24-month immunization appointments. Testing is also offered at immunization appointments for any child 7 years and younger who has not previously had a blood lead level test.
Children who do not receive immunizations through the Wayne County Health Department can still have the health department test their blood lead levels.
To make an appointment call 765-973-9245.