Lead Prevention Grant Looks to Decrease Lead Poisoning, Help Out Children

By: Brad Broders
By: Brad Broders

As a nurse treating lead poisoning patients, Shirley DiFrancesco has witnessed just about every negative side effect.

"Huge temper tantrums, I've seen them. I've seen them on the floor uncontrollably kicking and screaming, and when that lead gets out of their system they are no longer quite as difficult," DiFrancesco says.

But thanks to a new $4 million federal grant targeting lead poisoning, DiFransesco and other nurses hope to see fewer lead cases and more healthy children.

"It's wonderful when we can reduce a hazard for a child in our community," DiFrancesco says.

Each year, nearly 20 percent of Winnebago County children that are tested for lead poisoning come up positive, as contact with lead paint and dust can lead to serious problems.

"Even if it’s on the hands from cranking around on the floor, or playing with their toys, it can get on their hands, and then into their mouth, so if you put plastic on or keep your kids away from the window that isn’t good enough," Cindy Brusky explains.
The extra funds for stateline counties means lead removal workers will now be more proactive than ever, attending to lead in nearly 30 more houses a year.

"A lot of the historical programs only deal with housing after the child has been lead poisoned. These programs are designed to deal with programs before hand," says Nicholas Peneff.

DiFrancesco is hopeful the grant in the present will make way for healthier, happier area children in the future.

"These are our children that are going to take care of me when I'm older. I want these children to be educated, alert. I don't want them to have difficulty learning in school," DiFrancesco adds.

The northern Illinois region was one of just 37 in the entire country to receive such lead prevention funds. If you are interested in leaning more about lead poisoning risks, contact your county's health department.

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Getting the Lead Out

  • Lead was banned from house paint in 1978.

  • U.S. food canners quit using lead solder in 1991.

  • The 25-year phase-out of lead in gasoline reached its goal in 1995.

Lead Absorption

  • Adults absorb about 11 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract

  • Children may absorb 30 to 75 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract.

  • When lead is inhaled, up to 50 percent is absorbed, but less than one percent of lead is absorbed when it comes in contact with the skin.

  • The body stores lead mainly in bone, where it can accumulate for decades.

  • Calcium deficiency especially increases lead absorption, as does iron deficiency, which can also increase lead damage to blood cells.

  • A high-fat diet increases lead absorption, and so does an empty stomach.

Risks of Lead

  • Lead disrupts the functioning of almost every brain neurotransmitter.

  • While a child's chronic exposure to relatively low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems.

  • Higher levels of exposure in children can be associated with anemia and changes in kidney function, as well as significant changes in the nervous system that may include seizures, coma and death.

  • In adults, lead poisoning can contribute to high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs.

  • Severe lead poisoning in adults can cause subtle loss of recently acquired skills, listlessness, bizarre behavior, incoordination, vomiting, altered consciousness, seizures, coma and death

  • By the time symptoms appear, damage is often already irreversible.

Top Contaminators

  • Lead Paint:
    • America's No. 1 source of lead exposure in children is deteriorating lead paint in older housing.
    • Because young children frequently put their thumbs and fingers and objects they handle in their mouths, they are easily poisoned from chronic ingestion of lead paint chips and house dust or soil that may have lead particles in it.

  • Workplace Hazards:
    • Occupations that may expose workers to lead include painting, smelters, firearms instruction, automotive repair, brass or copper foundries, and bridge, tunnel and elevated highway construction.
    • Besides their own exposures, workers may bring lead dust home on clothes, hands or hair, exposing children in the household.

  • Drinking Water:
    • The main culprits of water contamination are corroded lead plumbing, lead solder on copper plumbing, and brass faucets.
    • Lead is highest in water left in pipes for a long time--for example, when the faucet isn't used overnight.

  • Ceramics:
    • Some ceramicware has lead in the glaze and may introduce small amounts of lead in the diet, which the body can tolerate, the major problem with ceramicware is the rare poorly made piece with very high levels of lead.
    • Antique ceramicware may leach high levels of lead. Consumers can use a lead test kit from a hardware store on such pieces and on other hand-painted ceramicware they may already own.

    Source: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdalead.html (U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web Site)


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