Asbury Park Press

Test Young Children, Experts Say

Asbury Park Press — Sunday, November 11, 2007

By TODD B. BATES
ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Lead poisoning is still a big problem, and all young children should be tested for lead, a Monmouth County health official says.

"The reality is the biggest problems we're seeing from lead today are coming from residential lead paint hazards," said Jim Walsh, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, a watchdog coalition with offices around the state.

But the recent problem of lead-containing toys from China has "definitely created another avenue to look at and probably has created a problem because children put toys in their mouth," said Elaine Bezdecki, coordinator of the Ocean County Health Department lead program.

Other sources of lead include candies, ethnic foods and even plastic window blinds made overseas, according to health officials.

The lead poisoning issue crosses urban and suburban lines in New Jersey because every county has thousands of homes with lead-based paint in them, according to Walsh and a state report.

And many children who are supposed to be tested for lead have not been, according to "Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey," an annual state report for fiscal 2005. It's the latest Department of Health and Senior Services report available.

"Very often, lead poisoning is viewed as ... a strictly urban problem," but it "impacts communities all over New Jersey," Walsh said.

"The reality is if you live in a house that was built before 1978 ... the home probably has lead hazards in it," he said.

"It's something that really does impact a lot more than just the urban centers," Walsh said.

Moreover, thousands of homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties were built before 1950, when the lead content in paint was highest, according to the state report.

However. New Jersey has created a low-interest loan program for landlords and homeowners to remove lead hazards from homes to prevent lead poisoning in children, Walsh said.

Lead testing recommended

State law requires physicians, registered nurses and health care facilities to do blood tests for lead poisoning on all children younger than 6 who come to them for care, according to the state health department Web site.

But parents have the right to refuse such testing for any reason, the Web site says.

All children should be tested at 12 and 24 months of age, as should 3- to 6-year-old children who have never been tested, the Web site says.

In addition, children who are six months or older and are exposed to a specific lead hazard should be tested.

A blood test showing at least 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter should be considered elevated under federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, according to the state report.

If the result is 20 or higher, the local health department covering the community where the child lives is notified, and the department must investigate the case and provide help, the report says.

About three-quarters of the estimated number of 2-year-old children in New Jersey have had at least one blood test for lead, the-report says.

"There's been increases in screening levels ... but it's not at an optimal level where every- body is being screened appropriately or during their recommended intervals," said Michael A. Meddis, public health coordinator in Monmouth County.

Most primary care physicians and pediatricians don't screen for lead in their offices, giving prescriptions to go to a lab instead, Meddis said.

So inevitably what happens is "the parent may not go for a variety of issues," he said. Maybe she feels "lead poisoning is not a problem because the child doesn't appear 01."

"In most cases of lead poisoning, there's no physical sign of illness" unless lead levels are very high, Meddis said.

Another issue may be a lack of transportation, he said.

According to results in the fiscal 2005 state report for children younger than 6:

When lead levels hit 20 or higher, "we check out the house and everything else for lead content," said Robert J. Ingenito, environmental health coordinator in the Ocean County Health Department.

Although lead-based paint is still the No. 1 source of lead exposure, other sources include toys and jewelry, cosmetics, ethnic foods such as grasshoppers, home remedies, candies and pottery, Meddis said.

One concern is that "there's probably a warehouse that's full" of lead-tainted toys that haven't been distributed yet, Bezdecki said.

"So parents have to be vigilant in having ... either the toys tested ... and reading where they come from and. maybe not buying them," she said.

Some children up to 3 years old "put everything in their mouth," and parents have to be aware, constantly take things away from them and tell them not to do it, she said.

"Lead paint tastes sweet to a child," who will return to the spot where he or she found the lead, "so moms have to become detectives," Bezdecki said.

"We're also finding lead in the plastic blinds manufactured in other countries," and they eventually begin to deteriorate into "almost like a gritty powdery substance," she said.

LEAD POISONING IN NEW JERSEY

Here are some facts about the threat of lead poisoning in New Jersey children:

Source: "Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey " annual report for fiscal 2005.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News