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Health officials warn of danger to N.H. kids posed by lead exposure

Wayne Marshall
Flickr creative commons

According to the Nashua Health Department, children could have been heavily exposed to lead during the pandemic because they spent more time at home.

This week, the Nashua Health Department marked National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week by sharing information about ways to avoid lead poisoning. The department distributed information to let parents know that in New Hampshire, the law says children under two years old must be tested for the neurotoxin.

There’s no safe level of lead in the body, according to the CDC.

Nashua Health Department workers suspect young children could have been more exposed to lead during the pandemic because they spent more time at home.

But over the last year of the pandemic, many children were not tested for lead exposure because health workers think parents were afraid to bring kids to clinics. But not testing kids is risky because some children might experience symptoms when it’s too late to reverse the effects of the poisoning.

Kathryn Hutcher, a registered public health nurse, says common symptoms of lead poisoning, including trouble paying attention, problems with eating and sleeping, and attention disorders, can present in kids until they’re six years old. Still, Hutcher says, usually, lead’s a silent killer.

“It only takes the size of a grain of salt,” Hutcher says.

The most common way children get lead poisoning is from chipped paint in windows, cells, stairs, and floors. Health officials warn kids at one or two years old are the most in danger, because they’re exploring.

“Lead tastes very sweet, and when they walk over it and put their mouth on it, it’s going to taste delicious. It’s going to taste like candy,” says Hutcher.

Hutcher says washing hands regularly is the best option to stay safe but warns parents that hand sanitizers and baby wipes are ineffective in cleaning up after potential lead exposure.

Children can be tested at their pediatrician’s office with a finger stick, or venous blood draws. But local health departments can provide the testing for free if families don’t have a doctor.

The state can intervene if a child presents more than five milligrams per deciliter of lead in their blood, the maximum level allowed in New Hampshire.

In 2019, according to the state, nearly 600 children had poisoning levels of lead in their blood. About 35% of refugee children who arrived at the state were found to have lead poisoning levels.

Lead was banned for residential use in 1978. According to the state, 63% of structures built before that year in New Hampshire have lead in them. Lead is such a durable material that it never disintegrates but exposure can be preventable.

Landlords should constantly check if there is chipping or deteriorating paint on the exterior and interior of homes. If any lead is found, they can apply for different grants to make repairs through New Hampshire Housing.

Homes in New Hampshire are not required to be inspected when bought or sold. The state health department provides a list of certified inspectors to call when lead presence is suspected.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.
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