State urges lead testing for young children

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(Host) The Vermont Health Department is urging physicians and parents to step up testing of young children for lead poisoning. Officials say only a small percentage of children who are at a critical age for lead exposure are being tested.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The danger of lead poisoning is greater in Vermont than most other places because the state has the second oldest housing stock in the country. It’s estimated 61% of Vermont’s dwellings were built when lead was commonly used as a paint additive.

Its use was discontinued after about 1960 and banned in 1978. The paint is a health hazard because as it deteriorates from age and wear, lead particles and dust can be ingested. It’s especially dangerous for young children. Doctor Paul Jarris is Vermont’s Health Commissioner. Jarris says even a small amount of lead can have serious affects if ingested by a young child.

(Jarris) “Lead in particular can affect brain development of a child. It can significantly lower a child’s IQ. It can also affect a kid’s social and behavioral conduct in schools and these affects appear to be irreversible.”

(Zind) Jarris says it’s important for young children to be checked for lead poisoning when they’re one and two years old. There’s been a steady increase in the number of one-year-olds checked for lead poisoning. But the number of two-year-olds being tested remains low. Because the amount of lead in a child’s blood peaks around age two, Jarris says it’s a critical time to get tested.

(Jarris) “Currently only about 13% of the two year olds are actually being screened for lead, which is a major concern for us.”

(Zind) Jarris says the department is alerting doctors to the need to test two-year-olds for lead poisoning. The test involves pricking a child’s finger to draw blood.

Parents also need to be educated about what to do if there is lead paint in a home. Ron Rupp heads the lead paint abatement program with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

(Rupp) “One of the things we run into a lot is families who renovate old homes and don’t realize the danger. A lot of kids are poisoned in this state from folks just wanting to make their homes better.”

(Zind) Rupp says lead painted surfaces should be kept in good condition to prevent chipping and wear – especially doors, windows and floors where paint can be worn away. Soil in areas around a house can also be contaminated if exterior lead-based paint has been used in the past.

He says removal of lead paint should be done by trained contractors. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board provides assistance to low income Vermonters to pay for the removal lead paint hazards. A 1996 state law requires owners of rental properties and daycare centers built before 1978 to take steps to reduce risks of lead poisoning.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

Related links:
Vermont Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program
Vermont Department of Health Lead Resource Guide

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