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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Officials Highlight Lead Poisoning's Dangers

Nov 4, 2003 | Austin Herald Lead poisoning has no visible symptoms, but it can do damage to a child's internal organs, brain development and hearing.

That's why screening children for lead early is important to their development, said Arlis Clennon, Mower County public health nurse.

In October, Gov. Tim Pawlenty dedicated a week to lead poisoning awareness. Cases of lead poisoning are down in the state, but state health officials fear some poisoning is going undetected because children are not being screened.

"We need to continue our efforts to make sure all at-risk children get screening for lead poisoning, and to eliminate potential sources of lead in older homes," said Dianne Mandernach, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner. "Childhood lead poisoning is a potentially devastating illness, but it's also entirely preventable."

Most often children received lead poisoning from breathing in or eating paint chips that contain lead. More than 80 percent of homes built in the United States before 1978 have lead-based paint, according to a Minnesota Department of Health study.

Factors that put children most are risk, according to MDH, are:

Age. Six months to 6 years of age

Low income, which is associated with poor housing, health care and/or education.

Poor nutrition such as iron and calcium deficiencies. These deficiencies increase lead absorption.

Urban residence where there are more lead sources, such as contaminated soil.

Recent or ongoing home remodeling, which increases dust from paint.

Recent immigration to the state. They may have had previous exposure elsewhere.

Lead dust can get on children's hands and toys because it settles into the floor or ground, according to the Lead Awareness Program. The body absorbs the lead once it's in the stomach.

To detect lead poisoning, children need to be screened by a medical health professional. Public health screens all children going into the Head Start program. Otherwise, family physicians can have children screened, Clennon said.

Once a child is screened, the results are analyzed and sent to the state. Depending on the levels of lead in the child's system, public health will inform the parents either by mail or phone call. If a child's lead level is above 20 micrograms per deciliter, Clennon and a risk assessor visit the house to detect the sources of lead.

Then the homeowners or landlord is notified of the sources and is advised to clean up the lead in their house. Techniques and procedures must be followed to do so, such as using a special vacuum and washing certain areas of the home, Clennon said.

Cleaning up the home, is the first step in getting rid of the lead in the child's system, Clennon said. The second is making sure the child is eating foods rich in calcium and iron.

"Good nutrition reduces the amount of lead in the intestine," Clennon said.

Then children should be screened every three months to make sure the lead levels are decreasing.

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