After being known as toxic for many years, lead is still poisoning thousands of Midwestern children, and the numbers in St. Joseph are surprisingly high compared to the rest of the state.
Missouri is the No. 1 lead-producing state in the country. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 65% of Missouri housing was built before 1978, a time when lead-based paint was widely used. It was not until 1978 that lead-based paint was banned nationally, resulting in many older homes still containing toxic chemicals.
An in-depth study in the Missouri Independent pulled together data from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, finding some of the highest rates of elevated blood lead levels in children, compared to the rest of the United States.
Eating or breathing in paints from older homes is especially dangerous to children six and younger, who are most susceptible. Rick Campbell, a Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services environmental specialist, explained that it’s not children simply eating paint chips or drinking contaminated water.
“It takes so very, very little to make a child sick, and they get the dust on their hands. It’s just natural, they are experiencing the world and that’s how they are getting it,” Campbell said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold for an elevated blood lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter. Any child who tests high warrants a public health response. During the fiscal year of 2018, 83,681 children were tested for lead in Missouri. Of the children who were tested, 517 had an elevated blood lead level of at least 10 micrograms per deciliter. A total of 2,553 children tested greater than or equal to 5 micrograms per deciliter (3.05%).
According to the Missouri Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program data, Buchanan County recorded an EBL rate of 7.04% out of the population tested. The following cities and counties recorded lower EBL levels throughout the state: Greene (2.35%), Jasper (3.26%), St. Louis (1.64%), Jackson (3.36%) and Kansas City (4.31%).
“If I were to give you an example, if you took a sugar packet and dumped it out and divided it in half and did that again, again and again, you would be down to the last little five or six little grains of sugar. That’s all the lead dust that it takes to elevate a child,” Campbell said.
The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Even very low levels in the blood can lower IQ and stunt growth. Treatment for lead poisoning depends on how much lead is exactly in the blood but the most important step is eliminating the exposure.
“It does take a lot of time. Prevention is obviously much easier. Once we identify one person in the family, then you are looking at the whole family,” said Dana Capp, a nurse practitioner at Peacock Pediatric. “The treatment is as simple as eating iron-rich, calcium-rich and vitamin C-rich foods. We just know the healthier your diet is, you don’t absorb as much iron into your body.”
The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Awareness Program is located at Patee Market Health Center, 904 S. 10th St. The program offers free lead screenings for children up to 6 years of age. Call 816-271-4725 with any questions or concerns about lead poisoning.
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