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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Lead-Poisoning Risks Continue

May 4, 2004 | AP

About 5 percent of North Dakota children become ill from lead poisoning, state Health Department officials estimate.

Ken Wangler, director of the State Health Department's radiation control, the division that oversees lead issues, said the estimate represents the number at any given time and is about the same as the national average.

"Whenever surveys have been done, that's been the norm," he said.

"For years, it was thought that lead-paint poisoning was an issue that was specific to large urban areas," Wangler said. "We don't think that way anymore. "

Although the use of lead in paint was outlawed in 1978, the paint remains in older homes, Wangler said. Also, lead still is used in certain industrial paints that sometimes are used in areas of homes, he said.

Other risks can come from family members' hobbies, such as working with stained glass, fishing weights or making bullets for black powder rifles.

Wangler said he has been involved in a boys club that runs pinewood derbies in which the cars often use lead weights. "Many of those derby cars end up in homes, handled by children," he said.

"There was a recall of imported toy jewelry sold through vending machines because of lead content," said Sandi Washek, the lead-based paint coordinator with the health department.

Lead also has shown up in certain cosmetics from Asia and black licorice candy from Mexico.

The health department has found children with elevated blood lead levels due to lead in vinyl and plastics from imported home furnishings. In one case, a Dickinson child was found to have high lead levels from playing with window blinds next to the crib. In another instance last year, a child had lead exposure from a favorite plate that had lead glazing.

"Not all pediatricians do routine lead screening, often out of the belief that lead exposure isn't occurring," Washek said.

"A lot of times, there are no symptoms, and the parents don't even realize it," she said.

Much of the health department's information about lead poisoning in children comes from Medicaid, which requires screening for lead in youngsters.

The treatment for lead poisoning depends on the level in the blood, Wangler said.

"At the lower levels, you try to locate the source of the lead and remove that from the child's environment, and improve the caretaking such as maybe the hygiene practices, limiting the child's exposure," he said.

"The body will get rid of lead on its own, but you have to remove the lead from the child's environment," Wangler said. "If the level is too high, there are some medical techniques that can be used to help the body get rid of the lead, but it requires a doctor's supervision."

Wangler said people may think lead-based paint is the largest cause of exposure for children, but there are others.

"We found lead in such things as even a child's favorite breakfast dishes," he said.

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