What is Utah doing to ensure lead is not poisoning our children? Until about a year ago, I would say not much. Lead poisoning in children and pregnant women is still a threat.
Why is it still important to screen and test for lead exposure? It is estimated that 2.6 percent of U. S. preschool age children have blood lead levels greater than 5µg/dL. In Utah with 52,000 births a year, this could potentially translate to over 1,300 kids a year. Lead exposure usually goes unrecognized except at high levels, it is cumulative, and it affects nearly every organ system. Lead, even at low levels, can lower IQ scores, and cause behavior problems including ADHD, aggression and impulsivity. It can result in permanent kidney and hearing damage. Lead can cross the placenta and affect a baby’s health before it is born. Lead exposure can come through air, food, water, dust and soil.
Here is the good news for our state. We have formed a Lead Education and Testing Coalition in the last year to work on these issues. This coalition is comprised of many organizations including the state Lead-Based Paint Program, Environmental Epidemiology, the Lead Safe Homes Program, the DEQ drinking water program, Head Start, WIC, Baby Watch Early Intervention, CSHCN, the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Our first goal was to change the Lead Reporting Rule in Utah to comply with the CDC’s definition of 5µg/dL as a dangerous blood lead level. We recently accomplished this goal which took effect in August. Also, several organizations within the coalition have recently been awarded grants from the CDC, EPA and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This money will aid our efforts to increase lead screening, testing and reporting in Utah.
We are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the last year, and we will continue these efforts. Oct. 22-28 is Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Please encourage your health care providers to test all young children and pregnant women for lead poisoning. A blood test is the only way to know if you are exposed.