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Preventing Lead Poisoning in Nebraska Children
Nebraska Ag Connection - 03/09/2018

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is strengthening its prevention work through a grant of $391,795 a year for three years awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The funding will support enhanced Nebraska Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program efforts to reduce lead exposure and lead poisoning for Nebraska children under 6 years old.

"Early lead screening and testing to identify and prevent lead exposure helps ensure the healthy development of Nebraska children, said Dr. Tom Williams, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. "This new funding will allow DHHS and our partners to identify lead-exposed children and link their families with services to find and remove the source of lead."

More than 34,000 children under 6 years old in Nebraska were tested for lead in 2016, 411 of them had elevated blood lead levels.

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health, including brain and nervous system damage, delayed growth and development, learning and behavior disturbances, and hearing and speech impediments. Young children are most vulnerable to lead exposures because their bodies are rapidly developing.

"There is no safe blood lead level in children, and unfortunately damage from lead poisoning cannot be reversed." said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS. "Prevention of lead exposure before a child is harmed is key."

DHHS will address childhood lead poisoning through a collaborative approach and partner with 18 local health departments across the state. The focus will be on key prevention strategies, including strengthening blood lead testing, surveillance and detection, prevention, and processes to identify lead-exposed children and connect them with services.

A common source of lead exposure for children is lead in paint or paint dust in houses built before 1978. Children can also be exposed to lead by family members who work with or have hobbies that involve contact with lead such as target shooting, auto repair, welding, construction, and home renovation. Other sources of lead can include contaminated soil, jewelry, toys, glazed pottery and folk medicine made in foreign countries.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Being aware of the sources of lead and taking precautions can help protect young children from the serious effects of lead poisoning. Families can ask their doctor to test their child for lead. Families living in homes built before 1978 should keep children's play areas free of paint chips and dust and take extra precaution when doing home renovation to prevent the spread of lead dust. Family members who work with lead are advised to keep work clothes and shoes away from children.

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