October is known for many health awareness causes such as breast cancer and domestic violence, but lead poisoning is a public health issue that more people are noticing. Established in 1999 by the US Senate, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (NLPPW) occurs during the last week of October each year. A collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the purpose of this special week “is a call to bring together individuals, organizations, industry, and tribal, state and local governments to raise awareness of lead poisoning prevention and reduce childhood exposure to lead.” This year it will take place from the 24th until 30th and the theme will focus on ways parents and caregivers can reduce children’s risks exposure to lead and how to prevent the health consequences of ingestion. This is an important theme because children, particularly those who are in poverty, are more likely to get lead poisoned. EPA, CDC and HUD provided a toolkit to spread awareness of this topic which highlights three key messages:
- Get the facts.
- Get your home tested.
- Get your child tested.
National-level Lead Poisoning Prevention Week engagement
People are encouraged to share their campaigns, events and activities surrounding this topic on the World Health Organization’s page about International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Since national governmental organizations are encouraging individuals to have their homes and children tested for lead, Ohio—both on the state and local (Northeast Ohio) levels—have been making strides to inform people about the importance of lead testing for children and abatement.
Ohio state-level investments to keep children safe from lead
On October 18, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus had a convening called Strengthening State Efforts to Keep Children Safe from Lead. Led by Representative Allison Russo and the question and answer session facilitated by Representative Susan Manchester, three experts discussed how lead negatively impacts children in Ohio and strategies the state government is doing to address the issue. Harvey Kaufman, MD, Senior Medical Director of Quest Diagnostics, explained that kids in Ohio have high levels of lead due to old housing and poverty. In fact, 2/3 of houses in Ohio might contain lead.
Two-third of houses in Ohio might contain lead.
Matthew Tien, MD of MetroHealth explained the importance of improving lead testing rates in his hospital and Timothy Johnson, policy advocate from Ohio Lead Free Kids Coalition, discussed what is in the recent state budget concerning lead prevention efforts citing the $6.5 million allocated to the Lead Abatement Line for each fiscal year 2022 and 2023. As the funds are being assigned to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), they will offer grants for nonprofit organizations and governments to conduct their lead programs. Other state funding from the budget includes $1 million allocated each fiscal year for the Lead Safe Home Fund and $10 million per fiscal year for the H2Ohio for Lead Line Replacement. These are important prevention-based strategies designed to decrease lead exposure among children in Ohio, especially because the state has higher blood lead levels than the national average, according to Dr. Kaufmann.
Regional and local efforts make improvements for lead testing and remediation
Across Northeast Ohio, there are many initiatives aiming to improve lead testing for children and MetroHealth Hospital is one of the entities. During a webinar about lead safe strategies organized by Better Health Partnership, Dr. Tien talked about ways to increase lead tests for children within their hospital system. Instead of children getting tested in a lab, an extra step parents had to go through, more patients have started to receive tests in the clinic during their medical appointments. Moreover, they have employed a lead nurse and are operating a pediatrics lead clinic. Through this work, MetroHealth is hoping to improve its testing and screening rates by sending text alerts to patients, conducting community outreach, and collaborating with other systems/organizations.
Money from ARPA can be allocated for housing, which lead remediation falls within that category.
Another local effort in the prevention of lead exposure for children is funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Money from ARPA can be allocated for housing, which lead remediation falls within that category. Currently, Cleveland City Council is discussing ways money should be divided for city’s issues. They have highlighted the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition’s request for $17.5 million to use the funds. Cleveland City Council should allocate funds to them because they have been making tremendous progress in lead prevention.
It could take over 141 years to make some older homes in Ohio that children live in safe from lead hazards.
Throughout NLPPW many initiatives to prevent children from being lead poisoned will be highlighted, which might include the projects mentioned previously. As various organizations and governments— both state and local— are utilizing ways to prevent children from lead poisoning in Ohio, it will take time to observe the major impacts as it could take over 141 years to make some older homes in Ohio that children live in safe from lead hazards. A key focus in making that change is to help impoverished children and families because they lack the necessary resources. As NLPPW tries to highlight the importance of reducing children’s risk of being lead poisoned, organizations and governments who participate in this weeklong initiative should provide resources for families in poverty. Only then might we see a greater impact on lead poisoning prevention across the United States, including Ohio.