Hidden out of sight, a hidden danger has become a target for health officials.
Lead has long been known to cause serious health problems, especially for children, as the toxic substance impacts brain and bone development. From peeling paint on old homes, outdated water pipes and other sources, lead impacts every county in Indiana and communities across the United States.
“I don’t think it’s well known that lead exposure can have cognitive effects, can cause cognitive impairment and behavioral issues,” said Lisa Brown, director of nursing for the county health department. of Johnson. “There can be a lot of side effects that may not be recognized at first. That’s why it’s so important to get lead tests done early to avoid all of these things.”
But with new state law passed earlier this year and increased local and statewide emphasis, the hope is to catch lead exposure before it becomes severe.
Indiana Lead Free is an Indiana Department of Health campaign designed to raise awareness of the importance of testing children under the age of 6. The effort stems from the passage of House Enrolled Act 1313, a law that went into effect Jan. 1. and requires all health care providers in Indiana to determine if children have been tested for lead poisoning and offer testing.
“The problem with lead is that it’s really insidious. It looks like a lot of other things. High levels of lead poisoning can look like ADHD, it can look like autism in some ways,” said Paul Krievens, director of the Lead and Healthy Homes division of the Indiana Department of Health. “Symptoms are not lead specific, side effects are not lead specific, so we encourage every parent to test every child.
“Your child may look fine with a high blood count, or your child may have a lot of symptoms that look like something else. You want to make sure it’s not misdiagnosed.
For decades, lead was a compound found almost everywhere in the United States. Cars were filling up with lead-based gasoline, which released the substance in its exhaust fumes. Paint, plumbing pipes, ceramics, batteries and even cosmetics contained the toxic material.
But as research uncovered the devastating impact lead can have on the body, it was banned over the years.
Anyone can suffer negative health effects from lead exposure, but these problems are exacerbated in young children. Because their bodies are still developing, lead can damage the brain and nervous system. Exposure has been shown to cause slowed growth and development, learning and behavioral problems, including decreased attention span and poor performance in school, and mental health problems. hearing and speech.
People are exposed to lead by eating lead shavings, ingesting contaminated food or water, and/or breathing lead dust. The most common cause of lead exposure today is from painting homes and buildings built before 1980 – which accounts for 57% of Indiana’s homes.
“A lot of people think it’s something we’ve dealt with. The truth is that it is not. The lead does not go away. It’s changing, it’s moving,” Krievens said. “When it was in gasoline, now it’s in the ground. When it was on the painted houses, now it’s chipping and chipping and grinding and turning into paint chips.
A tool created by the Indiana Department of Health has identified areas where people are most at risk of lead exposure across the state, based on housing age, percentage of children under age 6 living in poverty and the concentration of minority populations, all of which are major risk factors where lead has the greatest impact, Krievens said.
“We know there are a number of factors that add up to a higher risk factor for this community,” he said. “We want people in these communities to know that there are a myriad of factors that affect them and that it’s really important that they prioritize that for their children.”
The results are broken down by census tract. In Johnson County, the areas with the oldest homes and buildings stand out the most. The town centers of Franklin, Greenwood, Bargersville, Trafalgar and Edinburgh were all at higher risk.
“Johnson County is interesting in that there are a variety of communities that have older housing, so it’s not fair to say there’s a particular community or area that’s high risk. “, said Krievens. “In communities where you have pockets of older housing, we need to make sure everyone is tested, because that’s really important to know.”
Catching lead exposure early is key to protecting children’s health, Krievens said. That’s what prompted the passage of House Enrolled Act 1313, which requires all health care providers in Indiana to determine if children 6 and under have been tested for lead poisoning and offer testing. .
“That’s something we’ve been pushing a lot for because we don’t have enough statewide testing to really know where the lead problem is in Indiana, who it’s really affecting,” “We know anecdotally, but we don’t really know enough data to confirm this.
Indiana Lead Free is an attempt to promote this law and ensure that parents know they can ask their providers to take this test.
“It’s a problem we can solve, but we have to find the children it affects, and we have to find it early, so the interventions we put in place and the support we can put in place for those children matters. really,” Krievens said. .
Ideally, children are tested during their checkups at one and two years of age, or as close to those appointments as possible.
Through their routine immunization advocacy, local health officials also check to see if the child has been tested during their 12 month, 15 month and 18 month appointments. If they have not, parents are offered this option.
“We go over the importance of doing that,” Brown said.
People can also get tested at the Johnson County Health Department, where a simple hair test to draw blood from fingertips can be sent to the Indiana State Health Department lab for testing. the lead. If the results come back high, they determine whether there should be more follow-up or case management, Brown said.
Officials focused on spreading the message about the importance of detecting lead exposure early and taking steps to mitigate it.
“Just because you think your child is exposed doesn’t mean it’s okay to do so,” Brown said.
IN ONE LOOK
What: A statewide campaign by the Indiana Department of Health to help residents learn and understand the effects of lead exposure, testing regulations and more about the way to prevent it.
Why is lead a problem: Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health. Children 6 and under are especially vulnerable because their bodies use toxic lead in brain and bone development.
Where is the lead: The greatest risk of lead exposure in Indiana occurs through lead-based paint. Homes built before 1980, which make up 57% of Indiana’s homes, likely contain lead-based paint. Lead can also be found in some water pipes, in the ground near some industrial sites, in some toys and jewelry, and in some jobs and hobbies that involve working with lead-based products.
Testing recommendations: The test is recommended during check-ups at 1 and 2 years of age for a child, but can be done at any time if a child aged 3 to 6 has not been tested before.
Testing information: Lead testing is offered to the public by the Johnson County Health Department, 460 N. Morton St., Suite A, Franklin, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please call ahead at 317-346-4368 to ensure nurse availability. Hair test only.
– Information from the Indiana Department of Health