The National Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Training Sessions convened in St. Louis this week with Dave Jacobs, their Chief Scientist stating his real regret is prevention actions kick in to identify and remove lead sources when a child is already found to be lead poisoned and damaged for life.

His other regret is the majority of children are screened for lead when they are already too old to benefit the most and our response too late to stop the earliest damage from occurring.

Dave Jacobs repeated, so we would not leave without this message: lowering blood lead levels will NOT bring lasting improvement in cognition, behavior, or neuropsychological functions. Damage will still have occurred. By lowering lead levels, additional damage can be lessened.

There is no doubt there are fewer lead poisoned children in the U.S., but the current numbers exposed remain too high. An estimated 310,000 children in the United States have elevated blood-lead levels – and millions of people have the continuing adverse effects of prior lead poisoning. Some of these children are ours.

The serious and potentially lethal effects of lead poisoning are undisputed. Lead persists and accumulates in the body. While lead is potentially harmful to individuals at any age, it is particularly dangerous to children under the age of six whose brains are still developing. Their normal hand-to-mouth behavior increases exposure by ingestion. Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.

Lead exerts a broad array of harmful effects on multiple organ systems. It causes neurological damage, thus contributing to intellectual impairment, developmental delays, learning disabilities, memory loss, hearing problems, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and behavioral disorders.

Severe cases of childhood lead poisoning can result in organ failure, convulsions, coma, and death. We haven’t seen these severe cases locally, but one of the other speakers in St. Louis was Mary Jean Brown, who worked at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. I had seen her at a tiny airport in Montana on her way to a small country in Africa a few years ago. As the CDC investigator, she went to determine how to stop the deaths of hundreds of children from severe lead poisoning.

On arrival to that village, she found mothers were working inside their traditional huts processing gold ore, with their very young children on their backs. The lead fumes from the fires killed their children. Lead goes to bed with a multitude of metals, including the gold they were smelting. Mary Jean went to investigate the problem and look for ways to prevent more child deaths. I learned she was able to help them lower the actual death rate of their children by educating the mothers about exposure. Locally lead has not killed our children, but the damage from any lead poisoning is irreversible.

Lead poisoning continues to be a major environmental health problem in the United States, although it is completely preventable. The most common source of childhood lead poisoning is lead-based paint in older homes and buildings.

The use of lead in residential paint became illegal in 1978, but it can be found locally deteriorating on neighborhood homes when it chips, flakes and powders into dust and lands on the floor of houses or in the soil. Lead paint is a hazard and must be eliminated, or properly maintained, using lead-safe work practices. It is important for us to deal with it, so yards that are remediated of lead in the soil are not re-contaminated by old paint.

People attending the training cannot comprehend the additional burden we have in the Tri-State Mining District of the contaminated mine waste that has been spread throughout neighborhoods, parks, and school yards. We may not have in place the safeguards and systems they have developed, but we still have the opportunity to get rid of our contaminated yards, free for simply making a phone call to DEQ at 800-522-0206.

The icons in lead prevention Dave Jacobs and Mary Jean Brown calmly state the facts to health educators, nurses, and our state health department officials. Dave Jacobs bought Sherman-Williams stock so he could attend a stockholders meeting to ask the owners to stop their current lead-based paint sales in overseas markets. They refused to stop, but PPG Paint Company did stop their production after he spoke with the company owners.

Many of the states represented are light-years ahead of Oklahoma. In New York City they have investigators who go into stores and buy items and test them for lead, products loaded with lead are removed from the shelves and cannot be sold. Cities had safe houses for families to live while their homes were repaired and made lead safe, and funding for those repairs, or local laws to require property owners to repair rentals before they could be rented again to anyone.

“Until effective standards for the Domestic environment are devised, it is likely that children will continue to be employed as biological indicators of substandard housing,” Donald Balrltrop said that in 1974, forty-three years ago and a whole lot of biological indicator kids have suffered since then.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

— Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency