Jefferson County, Colo. — Creating and maintaining safe, healthy environments for our community’s children is a top priority for all of us. However, so frequently, the things that can harm children are the things we can’t see. That’s why for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week [cdc.gov], October 23-29, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is encouraging parents, caregivers and organizations in our community to learn about the risks of lead poisoning and the steps we can all take to create safer environments for kids.
Lead is a toxic element that is especially concerning for young children. Kids can be exposed to lead in a number of ways, both inside and outside of the home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 million U.S. households with young children — including 2.1 million low-income households — have lead exposure hazards.
In Jefferson County, the number of children who have tested positive for high blood lead levels has steadily decreased over the last 10 years. This is good news, but it’s important to note that there is still work to be done to keep every child in Jeffco safe. Additionally, this data only reflects the number of children with high blood lead levels who were tested, and many people in the county may not even know their kids are at risk.
“There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and even low levels of lead exposure can have negative health effects. When children ingest or breathe in lead, it enters their bloodstream and can cause lead poisoning,” said Mitchell Brown,
JCPH Environmental Health Services Supervisor. “When lead is absorbed into their bodies, lead can damage children’s brains and nervous systems. Unfortunately, lead poisoning is often subtle and can cause learning and behavioral problems, slowed growth and development and hearing and speech problems.”
Across the Jeffco community, there are some children who are at greater risk of lead exposure and poisoning than others, including children from low-income families, those living with adults whose jobs or hobbies involve working with lead, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, recent immigrants and those who are living in poorly maintained rental or apartment homes that were built before 1978.
The most common source of exposure is from lead-based paint, which many older homes (built pre-1978) in our community may have. Children are exposed to lead by swallowing or breathing in the dust created by old paint that has chipped or cracked. They also can encounter lead by chewing on surfaces coated in lead-based paint, such as windowsills.
Other possible sources of lead exposure [cdc.gov] to children are any household items — like toys, furniture or pottery — that are painted with lead-based paint, as well as some metal toys or jewelry or some imported items. Lead can also be found in drinking water, caused by old or corroded lead plumbing or old brass faucets.
To address possible lead contamination in water, an important, ongoing effort in Jefferson County and across Colorado is the Test and Fix Water for Kids program. This program is a result of House Bill 22-1358, which requires each child care program and school (serving any grades preschool through fifth) to test their drinking water for lead by May 31, 2023. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will administer this program and provide free training, testing and assistance. Most importantly, CDPHE will administer funds that will help to remove lead in drinking water in schools and child care programs. For more information about the program, visit the Test and Fix Water for Kids [cdphe.colorado.gov] webpage. JCPH is also helping to increase lead testing across our community and assisting facilities with the testing process, through our involvement in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act [cdphe.colorado.gov] lead testing and reduction grant program.
“The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. By taking three important steps, families can help keep their children safe and healthy.” Brown said. “First, families should get the facts around lead poisoning. Then, JCPH strongly recommends getting your child’s blood lead levels tested to ensure they have not been exposed to lead, and if they have, to make sure they access treatment. Finally, if elevated blood lead levels are found, it’s important to get your home tested for lead contamination.”
Additional steps that every family can take to keep their children safe from lead poisoning include:
To learn more about how to prevent lead poisoning, please visit JCPH’s website [jeffco.us] or the CDC’s website [cdc.gov].
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.