Test: Levels of lead in county bad for youths

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warren County is among 16 counties considered a high-risk area for lead poisoning, said a report geared toward children from the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Of 197,917 youths screened by county health departments and private physicians between 2004 and 2009, 1,640 living in 77 of 82 counties tested positive, said a release on the findings timed to coincide with October being Lead Poisoning Awareness Month.

Counties at highest risk for lead poisoning among the 77 include Warren, Adams, Coahoma, Forrest, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Jones, Lauderdale, Leflore, Pike, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Washington and Yazoo, the department said.

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Children screened by private doctors and community health centers made up 88 percent of the report. The other 12 percent were screened by the state and were eligible for Medicaid benefits and qualified for free health checkups from the state’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program, MSDH director of communications Liz Sharlot said.

Criteria included the number of pre-1950 housing units and children living in poverty, as well as the number of children younger than 6, total confirmed elevated blood lead level cases, lead screening rate and the number of addresses where multiple children had confirmed elevated blood lead levels in the past five years.

Children absorb lead into their bodies more easily than adults, though the positive tests represented .64 percent of all children younger than 6 who received a blood test.

Ingesting lead paint isn’t the only way people can be poisoned by the metal, Sharlot said. It can spread by inhaling lead particles when old paint is scraped, particles that can come off shoes while welding or soldering, and swallowing or chewing on objects that contain lead, such as fishing weights, pewter and jewelry.

“Keep your hands clean, because you can get lead poisoning from soil and dust, too,” she said.

Signs of lead poisoning include nausea, constipation, stomach pain, vomiting and loss of appetite, along with sleep disturbances, headaches and fatigue.

Over time, even small amounts of lead can cause serious and permanent health problems such as brain and nervous system damage, lower IQ and learning disabilities, behavior problems and hearing damage.