Childhood health advocates in Nashua pushed for a greater focus on lead poisoning at a virtual conference Wednesday.
The state is now requiring universal lead testing for kids aged one and two, as well as public health interventions and remediation by landlords at lower levels of exposure.
There’s no level of lead exposure considered truly safe, and it can lead to developmental problems.
Beverly Drouin runs the state’s Healthy Homes program, and said she lives in a house built in 1840 where lead paint poisoned two of her kids. In Nashua, more than half of the housing stock was built before lead paint use was banned in 1978.
“We have a ton of lead houses. We have a culture of independence here,” she said, referring to small-scale landlords and a lack of oversight by city health officials.
“Though we have a statewide collaboration that’s doing really good at getting the word out…we have a long, long way to go.”
In 2018, Drouin said, about 2,800 kids in the state had a blood lead level over the threshold where the state is now required to notify parents and property owners, and around a thousand children exceeded the level where the Centers for Disease Control “recommends medical intervention.”
She said it means schools must do more to identify and aid lead-exposed children, and parents must be sure to test their kids.
Gail Gettens, who also works with Drouin’s program, said parents should know that permanent developmental damage can result even from low levels of lead exposure.
“We can prevent this and save so much in terms of a child and family’s life and potential, but also our taxpayer costs and the economic burden to our communities,” Gettens said.
Numerous studies have linked lead exposure to violent crime rates in the U.S. One analysis, Gettens said, linked nearly a thousand crimes in 2012 in New Hampshire to lead exposure, at a public cost of around $9 million.
Nashua is second to Manchester for the state’s highest rates of childhood lead poisoning. In 2015, only about one in five young kids was tested for lead in the Nashua metro area.