Investigations On Child Lead Poisoning Cases To Increase

Left, Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller, Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department healthy communities consultant, and Natalie Whiteman, Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department lead program coordinator, discussing changes in the 2019-20 state budget that will increase the number of child lead poisoning cases they will have to investigate after Oct. 1. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The number of child lead poisoning cases the Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department will have to investigate will significantly increase after Oct. 1.

On Wednesday, Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller, Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department healthy communities consultant, and Natalie Whiteman, Chautauqua County Health and Human Services Department lead program coordinator, discussed the changes in the 2019-20 state budget that will lead to more investigations.

As of Oct. 1, state officials will lower the elevated blood level of lead from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms per deciliter. Schmidtfrerick-Miller said in Chautauqua County in 2018 there were 268 cases of children having an elevated blood level of 5 micrograms per deciliter. She said the change will assist county officials with removing more lead paint from houses in the county, but will also increase the caseload for the current staff to handle, without any additional funding from the state. Whiteman estimates that they will have to double the current staff of three to handle the increased case load.

Schmidtfrerick-Miller said lead poisoning impacts the development of the brain of children from newborn to 5 years old. She said lead poisoning has a permanent impact that can reduce intelligence, cause attention deficient disorder, memory problems and impulse control that later in life can possibly lead to more criminal behavior.

“The tragic thing about it is that it’s 100% avoidable,” she said.

Eight out of every 10 homes in the county has lead paint, Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. She said 91% of the houses in the city of Jamestown, where 90% of the county cases occur, contain lead paint. She said before lead paint was outlawed in 1978, it was primarily used around doors, windows, staircases and porches. As the paint chips away, lead paint dust falls to the floor where children at a young age when they are crawling are more susceptible to unintentionally ingest the poison. She added one out of every three children are not being tested.

Whiteman said the county does have grants to help remove lead paint, but it’s only interim control removal not complete abatement. She said county officials will remove chipped or peeling lead paint in houses, but not all of the lead paint in the structure because it’s cost prohibitive because a complete abatement, at times, is more expensive than what the house is worth.

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