Health officials expand efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning

MADISON, Wis. — Health officials are expanding efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning in Wisconsin.

The state’s lead policy advisor, Brian Weaver, said many of the families hit hardest by COVID-19 are also living in older homes with lead hazards.

Lead poisoning can happen when children swallow lead paint dust found in homes built prior to 1978. Drinking water can also be contaminated from lead service lines or plumbing fixtures.

That’s especially troublesome when children are staying home more often due to the pandemic.

“It’s become really clear with COVID that the first line of defense is someone’s home, staying at home and staying sheltered,” Weaver said. “Because of that increased time at home – for a child could also mean not able to attend school, day care setting, so they are spending a high percentage of time at home. And if it’s a home that’s unsafe or there are lead hazards, there is a chance of having increased exposure to those lead hazards. So yes we have seen anecdotally, where we’ve seen increases in children’s blood lead levels. This is in one or two case examples.”

The state Department of Health Services said lead poisoning can delay a child’s growth and cause learning challenges. More severe cases can lead to seizures, coma and death.

The state has taken preventative measures by reducing hazards and addressing structural issues in the homes of 125 Wisconsinites. The work was funded by an award from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The health agency also plans to increase the amount of children under the age of six who are tested for lead poisoning.

“Coordination of statewide lead poisoning prevention efforts, which include multiple state agencies and partners, is more urgent than ever to protect children from this 100% preventable condition,” Weaver said. “No child should have their health and future harmed by lead poisoning.”